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One Year After Newtown, Calls for Research on the Effects of Media Violence Have Gone Nowhere
I wanted to share the letter I sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today calling for the quick passing of the Violent Content Research Act of 2013. Current research on media violence is woefully out of date and incomplete, and, after a year of inaction on gun violence, passing this bill and ensuring further study is an easy first step for Congress to take. We recognize that gun violence is a highly complex issue comprising multiple factors, such as access to guns and mental health services, but we have an obligation to explore whether violent media content is a contributing factor.
Dear Senators Reid and McConnell,
We respectfully urge your leadership in working together in a bipartisan spirit to immediately pass a bill that will ensure much needed research on the impact of violent video games and violent video programming on children. In July, the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously passed S. 134, the Violent Content Research Act of 2013, introduced by Senator John D. Rockefeller and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators. Before adjourning this year, the Senate should pass this bill and send it to the House.
It’s been a year since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, in which a gunman stormed an elementary school and killed twenty children and six staff members, making it the second deadliest shooting in American history. We may never know why the shooter did what he did, but we must work together to explore every possible avenue to protect our children and prevent further gun violence.
When this national tragedy occurred, the President called on Congress to pass gun control legislation – and to support research into the effects violent video games have on young minds. As President Obama declared, “We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.”
Yet we don’t know any more now than we did then. S. 134 would direct the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a comprehensive study and investigation that focuses on whether there is a connection between exposure to violent video games or video programming and harmful effects on children. After a year of inaction on gun violence, passing this bill and ensuring further study is an easy first step for Congress to take.
All we want are the objective facts so that policymakers, industry leaders, and parents can make well-informed decisions. To their credit, many in the entertainment industry support more research. Yet astoundingly, some organizations, such as the Entertainment Software Association, are on record opposing this bill. We cannot let the financial interests of the gaming industry and other special interest groups prevent us from conducting sorely needed research in developmental psychology.
In February, Common Sense Media released Media and Violence: An Analysis of Current Research, which reviewed the latest scientific research about violence in media and its possible effects on aggressive behavior in children and teens. This research brief highlights several critical gaps in current research and offers some thoughts on promising new areas of study. (See www.commonsensemedia.org/research).
Also at the beginning of this year Common Sense Media, in collaboration with the Center for American Progress, commissioned a nationwide survey of 1,050 parents about their attitudes toward media violence. The survey found that the vast majority of parents are concerned:
- 77% of parents believe media violence, such as content in TV, movies, and video games, contributes to America's culture of violence;
- 89% of parents said violence in today’s video games is a problem;
- 75% of parents said shielding children from violence is difficult; and
- 88% of parents want ads for violent games, movies, and TV shows to be prevented from airing during programs viewed by large audiences of children.
We fully recognize that gun violence is a highly complex issue and that multiple factors, such as access to guns and mental health services, may underpin acts of violence. We are not saying that violence in entertainment media is the sole cause of the culture of violence in America. But don’t we have an obligation to explore whether violent media content is a contributing factor?
Your bipartisan leadership is critical in supporting unbiased scientific research and letting the families of the Sandy Hook victims know that we aren’t forgetting them.