WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Aaron Alexis, a former Navy electrician who was working as a government subcontractor, was gunned down by police after he shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16 using a shotgun he assembled, and later, a Beretta 9mm semiautomatic pistol he took from a downed security guard.
Alexis had been arrested in 2004 for firing at the tires of a Seattle construction worker following a dispute and again in 2010 for firing a gun in Fort Worth, Texas. No injuries were reported in either incident, but America’s debate on the problems leading up to the shootings began almost immediately.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reignited the gun control debate in the wake of the shooting, saying, “Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life.”
But many media outlets have chosen not to focus on guns, but rather on Alexis’ “addiction” with violent video games.
Mike Ritrovato, 50, was initially reported as having become friends with Alexis four years ago at a Buddhism festival in Keller, Texas, and multiple media outlets tied his comments to Alexis’ video game connection.
Ritrovato told The Los Angeles Times that, “if [Alexis] had anything bad about him, it was that he was a 35-year-old man playing video games.”
He also told ABC News that Alexis was often late to his job “because he was staying up all night playing video games.”
On “The 700 Club,” televangelist Pat Robertson worried that the “life-altering” effects of violent video games was carrying over to the real world.
Gun legislation failed to pass through Congress by six votes in spring of this past year, and the issue appears to have taken a back seat without more support from lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stated that while he wanted to move quickly on more legislation, gun control legislators simply “don’t have the votes.”
Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert insisted that liberal politicians’ calls for gun control were off-base, and that guns were not to blame. Instead, Gohmert said, “blaming this on guns is like saying the big problem with obesity is we’ve got too many spoons.”
Rep. Gohmert went on to tell Newsmax that mental health is a serious issue and that many may have “trouble distinguishing between what is reality and what isn’t.”
Academic research on the links between violence, guns and mental health offer a very complex story.
A 2012 behavioral study published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma used a 13-year longitudinal study of media use as a predictor for adult criminality. The study cited that “debates over the potential impact of media use have often been highly ideological and political and have been guided by an interest in the appropriateness of regulation and censorship.”
The study showed “minimal” alleged effects of media on criminal behavior, however, the study authors concede that their measure of media exposure only considered general exposure, rather than specific exposure to violent media.
A 2013 study published in Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice stated that violent video game playing is correlated with aggression, but added, that its relation to antisocial behavior in correctional and juvenile justice is largely unknown.
Including effects of age, sex and years playing video games, the study found that “violent video games are associated with antisociality … and these effects withstand the robust influences of multiple correlates of juvenile delinquency and youth violence, most notably psychopathy.”
Former Texas friend Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, 31, described Alexis as being like his “big brother” to The Daily Telegraph. He described Alexis as friendly to him and his wife, but stated that he was often a loner outside of his Buddhist temple circle.
“He could be in the game all day and all night,” told The Daily Telegraph. “I think games might be what pushed him that way. He always had this fear people would steal his stuff so that’s why he would carry his gun all the time. He would carry it when he was helping out in the restaurant which scared my customers.”
Much like recent attempts at gun legislation, video game regulation appears to be quite difficult.
According to Media Coalition, censorship is barred by the First Amendment, but video game industry self-regulation has worked.
“Video games qualify for First Amendment protection,” wrote the Supreme Court in the 2011 California case. “Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas.” The Court also found that violent content is protected in every medium, for adults and minors.
A Federal Trade Commission undercover shopping survey published in March 2013 showed that the Electronic Software Review Board’s rating system works: Retailers refused to sell M-rated video games to minors 87 percent of the time, up from 80 percent in 2009.
The Media Coalition analysis concluded that although a majority of Americans may link fictional violence to real-life violence, “common sense and objective research don’t show it.”
A 2013 New York University/Columbia University study correlates much of the violence back to gun ownership.
The study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that the number of guns per capita per country “was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related death in a given country.”
The study concluded that although mental illness was of complex, “borderline significance,” the idea that guns make a nation safer was found to be untrue.
An American Psychological Association analysis found that violent video games may be more harmful than violent television and movies “because of the interactive nature of the game.”
The dual-prong studies cited games like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D and Mortal Kombat for increasing a person’s aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior in the real-world.
“One study reveals that young men who are habitually aggressive may be especially vulnerable to the aggression-enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent games,” psychologists Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D., and Karen E. Dill, Ph.D. write on APA.org. “The other study reveals that even a brief exposure to violent video games can temporarily increase aggressive behavior in all types of participants.”
In South Korea, where there is more than twice the video game spending per capita than the United States, the firearm-related death rate is 0.13 per 100,000 people.
The firearm-related death rate in the U.S. is 10.3 per 100,000 people.