Legal Opinion: Why are games relevant to murder?

Assault Rifle

By on January 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Yesterday, in the New York Times, our former Prime Minister John Howard brought gaming back into the gun control debate, arguing that America needs tougher gun laws…

“Certainly, shortcomings in treating mental illness and the harmful influence of violent video games and movies may have played a role.

“But nothing trumps easy access to a gun. It is easier to kill 10 people with a gun than with a knife.”

…but also “violent video games”. Really, Johnny could have easily made his otherwise decent point without raising the spectre of violent gaming. So here, we’ll compare the documented effects of three influences on violent crime—video games, gun control laws, and policing. Then we’ll ask “So why are games relevant to murder, anyway?”

Games reduce crime overall

First, games can lead to players becoming more aggressive. Some lab tests find that—for male gamers at least—violent games reduce the brain’s sensitivity to violence. Violence, arguably then, becomes a more acceptable response to everyday situations.

However, whether this gaming rage actually leads to more crime is not so clear. For most players, the increased aggression disappears quickly. For fully half the gaming population—females—games haven’t even been found to cause increased aggression. And for those gamers who might get truly unhinged from a game just enough to go beat someone up in real life, gaming keeps these people indoors. Although far from confirmed, this indoor diversion effect has been argued to lead to lower violent crimes overall.

As such, games don’t deserve the blame. Neither do movies, which have also been proposed to reduce crime due to locking people away indoors for hours at a time. Censoring or restricting media may just divert people with already-violent tendencies into actual crimes.

Gun control laws might reduce crime… eventually

On the other side of the debate is whether gun control laws reduce crime. As Howard noted, Australia has had a big reduction in gun-related crime since the bans enacted in the late 90s. Since 1996, there has not been a single mass-homicide involving guns, and the numbers of gun-related suicides and homicides have halved.

However, this is a distinctly Australian phenomenon. Many studies find that gun control in America does not work—that the laws have no correlation whatsoever with reduced crime rates. And this is one reason why video games get the blame—gun control is far from proven.

The problems are twofold. First, America is extremely diverse with a huge number of states, cities, and towns. If one state tries to control guns, and a neighbouring state does not, then guns just come in across the border.

Second, America already has tens of millions of guns in circulation. This leads to the quite real problem of gun control laws simply turning criminals to a ready black market.

While America’s most recent moves to control guns may bear fruit in the future, it will be a long, long time before an impact is felt. While this isn’t an excuse for lax gun control, it is worth bearing in mind when people say “gun control is not the answer”. Realistically, gun control might not have any appreciable short term effect.

However, there is a far better short-term solution than simply throwing our hands in the air, or commissioning yet another study into violent video games.

Better policing is proven to reduce gun crime

The biggest proven influence on what reduces gun crime is, unsurprisingly, policing. While gun bans do not necessarily work, policing that targets gun-crime does.

New York City saw a substantial reduction in its homicide rate in the 1990’s—a decrease of 73%. Of all the factors that could have possible contributed to this, the most significant was the increased arrest rate for murders. Between 1990 and 1999, New York City hired more police, and had a greater focus on making arrests for actual crimes, rather than the vague “War On Drugs”. NYC’s success in this regard is well documented.

This is supported by the experiences of other American cities which have seen police focus on actively reducing violent gun crime. Baltimore City is an example, which once had one of the highest violent crime rates in America. After a period of refocusing police efforts on reducing violent gun crime, making arrests for gun crime, and confiscating illegal guns from the black market, Baltimore has seen a substantial reduction in firearms injuries, homicides, and suicides.

Why are games relevant to gun control?

If we can believe the actual, documented results achieved by different crime-control measures, then:

  1. Video games have no appreciable effect on crime, other than a possible small reduction gained from keeping people indoors.
  2. Gun control laws have an effect on crime, but have significant challenges to implementation.
  3. Policing has the greatest proven reduction on gun crime.

Why then, are games often mentioned in the same breath as gun control, yet policing is not?

The answer is that it is much easier to shift blame than do what works. Both gun control and better policing requires a substantial investment into police resources. Both will also threaten the underlying gun culture. This is a culture that sees putting on a gun in the morning as a normal thing—like pants—and a culture that sees easy access to guns as a God given right. Even shutting down the black market becomes problematic, since doing so would require some harsh measures to stop the trade of guns between private people.

Yet despite these challenges and culture shocks, if America really wants to reduce gun violence, they’re going to have to bite the bullet and do what’s been proven to work—long term gun control and better policing. Video games shouldn’t even be in the same conversation.

25 comments (Leave your own)

In regards to the drop of crime in the 1990s, the book Freakonomics attributed that to the abortion laws that passed in the 1970s. In a quick summary because there were suddenly mass amounts of people who were not born into what would have been an unwanted childhood that eventually leads to crime.

Read full article here:
http://www.freakonomics.com/2005/05/15/abortion-and-crime-who-should-you-believe/

 

In some cases I have seen people at a LAN get very heated over losing a match but they usually get over it fairly quickly and move on. There are however some in the world who would not let such trivial matters drop. History would tell you that World war one started because of a trivial assasination of a single archduke. For one nations national pride over 37 (estimated) million people died.

 

It’s more “constitutional right”, rather than a “God given right”

 
MuscularTeeth

i listened to a radio national talk (i think it was counterpoint) talking about computer games and violence.

one of the things they said was;
when you plot all the computer game stores in america, the places with the most game stores have a lower gun crime rate.

the other thing they mentioned;
violent games DID lead to violent emotions, however these emotions left immediately or soon after the gaming session.

im gunna have to try and hunt it down now…

 
MuscularTeeth

i think this was the radio article i listened to a few weeks back… – though im not listening to it now to confirm…

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/counterpoint/mike-ward/3991432

“Video games and Violence”

EDIT: YUP ITS THE ONE

excerpt:
“So the first thing I did was got a proxy for demand for videogames in different areas of the country, which is the number of video games stores, and related that to the amount of crime in each of these areas. And I found that when the number of stores increased in an area, the amount of…a number of different measures of crime actually fall. That begs the question; why does this happen?”

 

inaugral:
History would tell you that World war one started because of a trivial assasination of a single archduke. For one nations national pride over 37 (estimated) million people died.

Your version of history is a bit vague, the assassination is only 1 part, it has more to do with the tripple alliances, the hurt feelings from the Franco Prussian war and the imperialism that occurred during the Victorian era. The great war was inevitable, even had he not been assassinated the war would’ve occurred anyway, Germany already was gearing up for war well before the war had even started, it had plans already laid out ready to invade France and Belgium. This just gave them an excuse to do it. Hence why the Kaiser gets more blame for the war than Franz Ferdinand.

 

gammad: Your version of history is a bit vague, the assassination is only 1 part, it has more to do with the tripple alliances, the hurt feelings from the Franco Prussian war and the imperialism that occurred during the Victorian era. The great war was inevitable, even had he not been assassinated the war would’ve occurred anyway, Germany already was gearing up for war well before the war had even started, it had plans already laid out ready to invade France and Belgium. This just gave them an excuse to do it. Hence why the Kaiser gets more blame for the war than Franz Ferdinand.

I didnt want to write a novel in the comments section.

 
HandsomeSandwich

300 million guns, not tens of millions.
Constitutional right, not god.

 
HandsomeSandwich

The discussion of ‘more’ policing is a band-aid suggestion in the face of an on-going drug war. Want to stop gun crime? Stop the source of gun-crime; selective economic practices.

This also ignores the fact gun crime has been dropping in the US and relative to almost everything else, smoking, eating, etc it kills very few people.

 

“Violent games reduce the brain’s sensitivity to violence” – I’ve seen this discussed elsewhere a few times. As others have said here not only does this aggression usually subside after the gaming session, but the “violence” they refer to is usually pretty much movie violence. How many people are really bothered by movie violence anyway?

Anyway, this dicussion needs to be more logical instead of jumping to try and prove/disprove video games effects. For starters, these kind of mass murders are only happening in America, whose gun laws aren’t as strict compared to the rest of the world. Likewise, no other country in the world has a gun culture like America. Already it’s easy to see what’s going wrong here. 100% of the people committing these acts usually have known underlying mental/anger issues to begin with, while 99% (guessing here) of people who play games do not go out and commit crimes, much less because of them. Lastly, violence has existed as long as humans have, so why would they think it’s just one little thing causing it? If we banned all video games and these murders still occured (and they woud obviously) what would they blame then? Movies? Angry rap and rock music? How much do we have to ban before they realise a lack of mental healthcare and over importance of gun violence are the real issues here?

 

spoidar: It’s more “constitutional right”, rather than a “God given right”

My read is that America don’t see any difference between the two.

 

The constitutional right to bare arms just means you can wear a t-shirt in public, silly.

 

Do a Google search on “God given right to bear arms” and you get 3.5M hits – so a significant number of people DO believe it is a God given right…

There are more gun stores than Starbucks and McDonalds COMBINED… about 51,000 gun stores 11,000 Starbuck 13,000 McDonalds

There are hundreds of millions of guns in the US – The most armed society in the world – about 90 per 100 people as of 2007 – next closest is India with about 4 per 100 people then China about 3 per 100

With that many guns in circulation – in a culture like that – no wonder they have more gun crime of that type than anywhere else in the world…

 
Patrick Vuleta

Couple of comments…

The American constitutional right to bear arms only supports the militia’s right to bear arms. Which is the National Guard. This has been supported over and over in the American Supreme Court in favour of gun control laws.

Second, the War on Drugs is exactly the kind of thing that’s causing ineffective policing. The Baltimore example I gave was an example of how policing switched from focusing on drugs (outright ignoring them) to focusing on guns and resulted in improvements.

 

muscularteeth,

Except that is not begging the question, it is raising it. Begging the question is a circular argument where the answer or solution is embedded in the premise.

Just saying, Mr Radioguy…

 

inaugral: I didnt want to write a novel in the comments section.

That’s fine. I’m just interested in the topic. Tends to spew out at unforeseen moments lol.

 

handsomesandwich:

This also ignores the fact gun crime has been dropping in the US and relative to almost everything else, smoking, eating, etc it kills very few people.

Tell that to someone who has had a family member murdered and I’m pretty sure you would get a kick in the face.

On the article however, it’s well written and it makes some good points. On the topic of violent tendencies being noticeable in males only (however short that period is), it should be noted that the vast majority of violent crime is committed by males which means that having no appreciable affect in females is not nearly as significant as it sounds.

 
Plague_Injected

http://gunfacts.info/pdfs/gun-facts/6.1/gun_facts_6_1_screen.pdf

According to this, it is a myth that crime has fallen in Australia since gun control laws came in

 
Patrick Vuleta

According to the ABS myths perpetrated by the media are myths. :P

While researching this article I came across a publication by ABS (or whoever collected statistics on this) lamenting how many in the media and private interest groups twist crime statistics into saying crime has gone up, when it’s really gone down.

 
Plague_Injected

Patrick Vuleta:
According to the ABS myths perpetrated by the media are myths. :P

While researching this article I came across a publication by ABS (or whoever collected statistics on this) lamenting how many in the media and private interest groups twist crime statistics into saying crime has gone up, when it’s really gone down.

Link?

 
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