In gun debate, video game industry defends practices
WASHINGTON — The video game industry, blamed by some for fostering a culture of violence, defended its practices on Friday in a White House meeting exploring how to prevent horrific shootings like the recent Connecticut elementary school massacre.
Vice President Joe Biden, wrapping up three days of wide-ranging talks on gun violence prevention, said the meeting was an effort to understand whether the United States was undergoing a “coarsening of our culture.”
“I come to this meeting with no judgment. You all know the judgments other people have made,” Biden said at the opening of a two-hour discussion. “We're looking for help.”
The gaming industry says violent crime, particularly among the young, has fallen since the early 1990s while video games have increased in popularity.
There are conflicting studies on the impact of video games and other screen violence. Some conclude that video games can desensitize people to real-world violence or temporarily quiet part of the brain that governs impulse control. Other studies have concluded there is no lasting effect.
One of the fiercest critics of the video game and entertainment industry has been the National Rifle Association. Wayne LaPierre, the group's executive vice president, lambasted the game industry as “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people through vicious, violent video games,” in a December news conference.
“In a race to the bottom, media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty right into our homes every minute, every day, every hour of every single year,” LaPierre added.
Cheryl Olson, a participant in Biden's meeting and a researcher of the effect of violent video games, said there was concern among industry representatives that they would be made a scapegoat in the wake of the Connecticut shooting.
“The vice president made clear that he did not want to do that,” Olson said.
Biden is expected to suggest ways to address violence in video games, movies and on television when he sends President Obama a package of recommendations for curbing gun violence on Tuesday. The proposals are expected to include calls for universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Obama appointed Biden to lead a gun violence task force after last month's shooting in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 children and six educators dead.
Gun safety activists were coalescing around expanded background checks as a key goal for the vice president's task force. Some advocates said it may be more politically realistic — and even more effective as policy — than reinstating a ban on assault weapons.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said some 40 percent of gun sales happen with no background checks, such as at gun shows and by private sellers over the Internet or through classified ads.