NRA chief right about vi­o­lence, but wrong about link to im­ages

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Smith is ed­i­tor of the Times Union. http://blogs.time­ edi­tors.


his sup­port­ers con­cede that Wayne LaPierre is not the most sym­pa­thetic of characters. But the leader of the NRA was at least half-right on Dec. 21, and as what you might call a tar­get of his de­ri­sion, I think it’s pretty gen­er­ous of me to say that.

Emerg­ing from the hid­ing that since the Sandy Hook school mas­sacre has shielded the NRA from cer­tain crit­i­cism, LaPierre read a state­ment that clearly sought to shift the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion from gun con­trol to, well, just about any­thing else. Cast­ing about for a cul­prit, he set­tled upon — sur­prise! — the me­dia.

LaPierre called us “silent en­ablers, if not com­plicit co­con­spir­a­tors” of com­pa­nies that sell Amer­i­cans vi­o­lent movies, mu­sic videos and games. To stop mass mur­ders, LaPierre sug­gests, we need to not only put armed po­lice in ev­ery Amer­i­can school, but also do some­thing (un­spec­i­fied) to stop peo­ple from see­ing vi­o­lence on screens.

Here’s where LaPierre is right: Vi­o­lence is dis­gust­ingly ubiq­ui­tous in what Amer­i­cans watch on all sorts of screens. Through movies, TV shows, mu­sic videos and video games, he said, a child grow­ing up in Amer­ica wit­nesses 16,000 mur­ders and 200,000 acts of vi­o­lence by the time he or she reaches age 18.

What LaPierre clearly wants you to con­clude is that such vi­o­lent im­ages lead to homi­cide, and so that’s where peo­ple hor­ri­fied by the Con­necti­cut killings should turn their at­ten­tion.

In his state­ment he made no de­fin­i­tive link be­tween what peo­ple see on screens and the crimes they sub­se­quently com­mit. That’s be­cause there’s isn’t one. Sci­en­tific re­search over two decades has found noth­ing to tie ex­po­sure to vi­o­lent im­ages with com­mis­sion of vi­o­lent crime.

But re­search has found plenty of other rea­sons to take a stand against vi­o­lent im­ages. Vi­o­lent video games, re­searchers tell us, teach young­sters that vi­o­lence is an ap­pro­pri­ate strat­egy for re­solv­ing con­flict. They cause peo­ple to as­so­ciate plea­sure with caus­ing pain in oth­ers. The vi­o­lent im­ages de­sen­si­tize view­ers and play­ers to re­al­life vi­o­lence. They in­crease ag­gres­sive arousal.

You can’t say vi­o­lent im­ages are cre­at­ing a gen­er­a­tion of killers. But you can say that we have turned un­speak­able vi­o­lence into en­ter­tain­ment, and you can join Wayne LaPierre in de­cry­ing it.

In rais­ing that is­sue in the con­text of the mur­ders of the chil­dren of Sandy Hook, how­ever, LaPierre is noth­ing short of de­vi­ous, for he is at­tempt­ing to di­vert at­ten­tion from what sci­en­tific re­search has es­tab­lished.

Like this: States with stricter gun laws tend to have fewer gun-re­lated homi­cides. And where there are more guns, there is more homi­cide, both in the U.S. and in other high­in­come coun­tries.

In the gym where I work out, there are many screens — show­ing TV news­casts, mu­sic videos or a con­tin­ual loop of ac­tion movies where peo­ple are shot, blown up, run over and beaten. Just af­ter the Sandy Hook mas­sacre, a woman I know was so dis­turbed by the twin im­ages on the gym screens — the news­cast show­ing the sad scenes from Con­necti­cut, the movie show­ing peo­ple be­ing oblit­er­ated — that she asked that a less vi­o­lent movie be played. A few days later, when she re­turned, she was thrilled to note that the movie be­ing shown wasn’t a vi­o­lent one.

Might a steady diet of “It’s A Won­der­ful Life” in­stead of “Die Hard” make us a bet­ter peo­ple? Sci­ence doesn’t sup­port that no­tion. But as a par­ent I’m pretty sure I’d rather raise a kid on the moral­ity dis­played by Jimmy Ste­wart’s char­ac­ter than Bruce Wil­lis’. For that to hap­pen, you don’t need to leg­is­late re­stric­tions on movies. You need to speak up.

“Never doubt,” the an­thro­pol­o­gist Mar­garet Mead wrote, “that a small group of thought­ful, com­mit­ted ci­ti­zens can change the world; in­deed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

When Gov. Rick Perry made Steve McCraw the di­rec­tor of the Texas De­part­ment of Pub­lic Safety in 2009, only a dozen DPS em­ploy­ees earned $100,000 a year or more at the agency; now there are 73, re­flect­ing an enor­mous growth in DPS man­age­ment po­si­tions and pay. Mean­while, the more than 3,500 of­fi­cers at the largest statewide law en­force­ment agency have seen lit­tle in­crease in their base pay.

John Z. Cava­zos: And what about teach­ers?

Yvonne Cortez Flores: TX DPS are over­paid then.

John Z. Cava­zos: I should have been a cop in­stead of teach­ing. This coun­try is all about money, isn’t it?

Lacy A. Morten­son: To

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