Movies, bloody video games studied as violence triggers


Many say the availability of guns is not the only factor that could trigger a deadly act. Though the industry disputes it, some experts say films glorifying violence and video games rewarding death can be equally lethal, especially in the
hands of people with mental health issues.

When Chris Nolan’s film “The Dark Knight Rises” came out in July, the on-screen death and destruction served as the backdrop to a mass shooting during its premiere in Aurora, Colorado. The killer, 24-year-old James Holmes, had dyed his hair red to resemble the Batman character The Joker. Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58.

The U.S. has the highest gun ownership rate in the world, 89 weapons per 100 people. Despite the high number of guns, because of its large population, the U.S. does not have the worst firearms murder rate. Four of the five countries with the highest rates are in Latin America. The top rates on murders per 100,000 people are Honduras, 69; El Salvador. 40; Jamaica, 39; Venezuela, 39, and Guatemala, 35.

The United States ranks 28th, with a rate of 3 per 100,000 people. However, the United States also ranks high on deaths attributed to guns, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2010 survey. The agency said that 9,146 persons were killed by firearms in the United States is 2010. That put the country in fifth place behind Brazil with 34,678, Colombia with 12, 539, México with 11,309 and Venezuela with 11.115. The difference is that the gun deaths include suicides, shootings by police and victims as well as accidents.

The Hollywood premiere this week of Quentin Tarantino’s bloody western “Django Unchained” was canceled out of respect for those killed in Connecticut, though the movie will be released.

Criminal defense attorney Rene Sandler said on-screen gunfights can inspire real-life shootings.

“The perpetrator becomes a character, takes on the persona of an aggressive, violent individual or superhero, and in Aurora it’s a perfect example of just that,” she said.

But Ms. Sandler said, even more than films, violent video games are at the core of brutal behavior, and she said they should be regulated.

“I have seen clients who have engaged in that interactive video experience where they are killing, where they are using guns, where they are gaining points and winning given the more bodies that they amass. In this country we can ban sugary drinks for children because it’s unhealthy. We have done nothing to stop violent video games for children and adults,” she said.

Ms. Sandler said on-screen violence itself is not dangerous. But it can be weaponized in the hands of people with mental issues.

Law enforcement authorities in the Connecticut shooting have said very little about the 20-year-old killer, Adam Lanza’s mental health. But the elementary school attack has raised the issue and many are calling on society to be more vigilant.

A game industry group calls any link between video games and violence a myth. And following the movie theater massacre in July, a movie industry mogul suggested a summit on violence and film, which has not yet been convened.

Still, an Oscar-nominated movie last year, “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” eerily mirrors the Newtown shooting. The 16-year-old upperclass student Kevin goes on a killing spree at his high school after murdering his family. The movie raising loaded questions about teen mental health, family breakdown and violence in American society.

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