Update – Post School Shooters Article

Thank you for all the support and encouragement, and thank you for all the dissent and disagreement. My hope in publishing this piece (or posting it on my blog) was to start a discussion. And that discussion is certainly taking place thanks to all of you.

I knew this was an important topic, and that’s why I was so frustrated that the Huffington Post chose not to publish my op-ed piece.  In the end, that’s all it was, an op-ed piece. My opinion on a topic.

To clear a few things up:

1. I never suggested that all violent video game players would become violent in real life. I did suggest that violent video game playing might be a major contributing factor in mass school shootings. I know that my evidence is anecdotal at best, but (fortunately) we do not have a large enough school shooter sample size to have anything other than anecdotal evidence in this case.

2. Many of my readers have written intelligently-phrased anecdotes of themselves playing video games and not becoming violent, but other readers have countered that video game violence blurs the line between reality and non-reality and makes real violence seem like a more viable option. I’m not sure which anecdotes are more valid. But I question whether any practiced violence is positive, especially for angry or mentally ill teenage boys. And again, why do any of us need to practice, simulate, or glorify violence in any form? What does that do for us as human beings? How does that make any of us into better people?

3. Some readers suggested that mass school shootings pre-dated video games, but that is false.  There were many school shootings in the late 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries in the United States. Dozens of teachers were shot in front of their classrooms by disgruntled students.  But that is something entirely different. Mass shootings of fellow students or younger students by young male shooters is a newer phenomenon. And that phenomenon has become more common since the advent of violent video games.

4. Yes, we do have a gun problem in the United States. It is crazy that gun purchasers can circumvent gun shop laws and standard waiting periods by buying handguns at gun shows. That’s silly. That’s like allowing 13-year-olds to legally buy alcohol but only at the county fair.  Plus, assault rifles shouldn’t be available to anyone.  They’re called “assault rifles.” I know that many readers disagree with this point because they talk about the “right to bear arms,” the Second Amendment. But do those readers know the context of the creation of that amendment? Yes, if I had armed, foreign troops stationed in my home, and we had had multiple wars on our soil in the past 100 years, I might feel differently.  But I don’t, we haven’t, and the hypothetical “maybe it could happen” is not a strong argument.

Thanks to all of those who posted on Facebook, retweeted, and blogged in response. I read as much of that response material as I could, but responses got beyond me. Thank you for continuing the conversation.  Thank you for agreeing and disagreeing.  Keep it going.

– PBH

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18 thoughts on “Update – Post School Shooters Article

  1. Assault rifles are rifles that have select fire capability between semi-automatic and fully automatic / burst fire.

    These are already illegal and very difficult to obtain in almost all of the US. ( for good reason ) they are a horrible choice for home defense. They can fire anywhere from 700-900 rounds per minute. Which is about 13 rounds per second. Many of them fire notoriously over-penetrative rounds such as the 5.56x45mm NATO, .223 Remington, 7.62x39mm. using this for home defense would likely send rounds tearing through multiple houses in the area.

    “Assault Weapon” is the term that the media has been using. “Assault Weapon” is a term that is used to describe a scary looking rifle. And is based purely on aesthetic qualities.

    Under the Clinton era “assault weapon” ban. an assault weapon is a rifle that accepts detachable magazines and with 2 or more of the following features

    -Folding or telescopic stock
    -Pistol grip
    -Bayonnet mount
    -flash suppressor ( or threaded barrel )

    -Grenade launcher (more precisely, a muzzle device that enables launching or firing rifle grenades, though this applies only to muzzle mounted grenade launchers and not those mounted externally).

    Now lets look at these varying modelsof the popular Ruger Mini-14

    All of those rifles have the same internals, and fire the same round. They can all be fired as quickly as each other, and all of them could easily be used to kill lots of people, very quickly.

    So then the ruger mini-14 should be totally banned right?

    wrong.

    Only one of those Mini-14s would count as an assault weapon. Can you guess which one?

    The “Tactical” model is your assault weapon. Even though on the inside, it will perform exactly the same as the other models.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and not being afraid to speak out on such a controversial topic! Although I guess I have never known you to be afraid to say what’s on your mind (no matter what it is)… Anyways, I think you brought up some very interesting points. I really agree that the availability of practicing violence (such as in many popular video games) is unnecessary, and could be an important factor contributing to the dramatic rise in school shootings. Further research on this really SHOULD be a priority. It is unfortunate, however, that the corporations involved in producing and promoting these types of video games are blinded by the extreme profits that the games can bring in. It would be nice to think that the potential for saving lives (or even jusy one life) would far outweigh the drive to make profits. However, it is unfortunate that we seem to live in a world where an emphasis has been put on making money (sometimes, not matter how it’s done, or what is sold). Thanks again for sharing!

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  3. Thank you for having the balls to give a potential reason or reasons that these school shooting keep becoming more and more frequent. I find our society becoming ever more isolated and desensitized by isolation and the inability to actually socialize or communicate with anyone. The majority of children I see from my own circle of friends seem more focused on flat screen than engaging someone in conversation. To even give the simple respect of giving one’s attention to a speaker is a rapidly fading ability. I would hate to think of what they will become of in the future, mindless drones or just uncaring and isolated or perhaps all three. Getting back to basics and the outdoors is a great start. Thank you for writing the article. It has indeed sparked many a conversation and I’m hoping it sparked a few ideas about getting involved and getting outside. I see video games can be used as constructive but there is no tangible benefit that Ive noted.

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  4. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story. I absolutely see your point about video games, but imo your willingness to share your past is the most powerful aspect of the piece you wrote. We’re totally happy to witness certain kinds of transformation. Fat to thin, geek to cool kid, etc. Always the transition goes from powerless to powerful, victim to hero. We don’t know how to place gun toting teenage males inside that comfortable construct. My guess is that’s why the HuffPo didn’t want your piece. For what it’s worth, your story meant a lot to me, personally. Gun toting teenage males are not the only people with demons to confront.

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  5. So, as a logical progression, since we have not had the government try to suppress our freedom of speech, should the First Amendment be ignored? It is a right we have no matter the circumstances.

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    • Iagree with all the original blogger said. This country has become desenstized to violence. It in video games, TV and movies. I am totally for the 2nd amendment in spirit but when it was written things were different and there were no such things as assult weapons it was taking our fore fathers a good minute to load for 1 shot not 5 minutes for 700 rounds. Think about it. iM NOT A HOLY ROLLER EITH all though I go to church and have a deep faith but I stand by the fact that ever since ONE ASINE ATHEIST got her way and removed prayer, the pledge to the flag and the morning devotions from schools our schools have gone down hill. Kids no longer respect any type of authority figure not teachers, principals, or diciplinaians. I know Im telling my age here but when I was in school we feared the SAFETY PATROL let alone the principal and we showed respect to all teachers talking to them in the manner that they earned and you didn’t have school shootings. Even the so called “BAD BOYS and GIRLS” cleaned up thier act if sent to the dreaded principals office and in my time it would be even worse when you got home because parents were also respected and you wanted to make your parents proud. I wasn’t allowed tv until after homework let alone video games. Parents have had the right to discipline taken away. If You give your child a swat on the butt with your open hand on the butt and only the butt I repeat its now abuse no put little Tommy or Suzy in time out they’ll be fine to hit them is violent but its ok to allow them to witness decapitation, shootings and stabbings 18 hours a day and we wonder why we are desensitized to violence. I swatted my kids and hurt me more than them they grew up to be productive well adjusted adults. I do NOT ADVOCATE BEATINGS. I REPEAT I DO NOT ADVOCATE BEATINGS OR CHILD ABUSE Im talking about a simple attention getting swat on the butt. My parents corrected me with a swat here and there but usually if they used my first and middle name that was enough to get my attention because I knew I’d gone to far. Try that in this day you won’t even get them to look up from texting. Ok thats this womans opinion it could be wrong but its not all wrong.

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      • Hi, Molly.

        I think you are voicing the frustration that a lot of people feel with regards to what seems to be a significant decline of morals, etc. in our culture. I do not think we can point to any single cause to answer the question of “Why?” and I don’t think there is a single solution either. It is a complex problem.

        I will offer though, when it comes to raising children, there is a difference between discipline and punishment. Not punishing is not the same as not disciplining. And the alternative to spanking is not to be completely permissive. If anything, parents have to make even More of an Effort to be involved with their children than what is involved in spanking or being completely permissive . They have to be willing to take the time to Explain their actions and their expectations and provide Logical, Rational, and Consistent consequences for children with regards to what would be considered inappropriate behavior, and they have to Know what Is Appropriate to Expect from children As They Develop.

        Tell me this, if an emotionally or mentally handicapped person did something that was considered “inappropriate behavior”, knowing they were handicapped and might have difficultly understanding “right from wrong”, would you resort to hitting them as a form of punishment? If an older person who has lost their ability to control their bodily functions accidentally wet themselves, would you hit them? While I am assuming your answers in both cases would be, “No. Of course not,” I’m afraid that parents who choose to spank their children for similar offenses do not see the connection. They do not understand that young children are, in effect, emotionally and mentally handicapped, because They Have Not Had the Chance to Fully Develop yet, and in fact, they are Particularly Vulnerable to aggressive behavior, aggressive words, and/or neglect from their parents.

        As far as disrespect in the schools is concerned, I would offer that children have lost respect for authority in part because they are part of an information age that more and more points out the hypocrisy those authorities express. But, they are also not getting the very direct, one-on-one, Loving and Compassionate Interaction they need from their parents in order to fully mature as human beings. (And, for the record, Molly, this is the case for Most People, even Most Adults, in our culture today.)

        I encourage you to please take the time to watch this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONNRfflggBg

        Thank you.

        Respectfully,

        Lori

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  6. Peter, it was great meeting you via your post and this blog. Whether or not there can ever be a causal relationship established between gaming and real-life violence, we still have a right and obligation to shape our culture and push it in the direction of sustainability. We hit a real crossroads a few years back when we kept our son out of Scouting because I didn’t want his dues funding anti-gay lawyers at BSA headquarters. It killed me because, as an Eagle Scout, I benefitted enormously from an outdoors education. We weren’t able to quickly replace it with another alternative, but I knew that such an option was the real antidote to any negative cultural obsessions. Keep your good work going.

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  7. Pete, I don’t know if you’d be up for a discussion through email. I do not want to hijack your space on here at all, but I would greatly enjoy a discussion about this. I think that there are so many variables to your original blog. I was just linked to it by my fiancé and have had a few people even read it here at work to discuss the matter. I thought it was a great read, however I think there are some other variables not covered. If you are fine with the discussion taking place on here, Ill write more. I just want to be respectful of the space presented here and not be selfish taking up the attention in the thread.
    .

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    • Todd, please feel free to reply here or on the original post thread. There’s a great discussion going there. And thanks for reading.

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  8. Peter, You are right on! I’m a psychiatrist and anti-violent media activist, who has been writing about and speaking out about the danger of violent video games, movies, TV shows and lyrics for years, and have testified before Congress several times on this issue. In fact, decades of research do show that violent media cause people to become more aggressive and more desensitized to violence. Not everyone will become a mass shooter, but all will become more aggressive, in proportion to the amount of violence they consume. We see this in our daily lives as people have more road rage, increased domestic violence and so on. The Sandy Hook debate is focusing on guns when it should focus on banning violent video games and educating parents and teachers about the damage these games do!

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    • Thank you for your response and expert opinion. I’ve gotten a lot of hate mail this past week as gamers found my school email. Interestingly enough, the gamers send the most violent emails too. Keep up your excellent and important work. – PBH

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  9. Peter, I live in northern Maine and teach an Outdoor Education program at my high school. I like your comments on how outdoor experiences defuses anger with teens and would like permission to submit your write-up on gun violence to local newspapers.

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  10. I read your previous post and this one, the videogame topic in violence is very recurrent and polemic nowadays and a good way of marketing people and ideas. Maybe I skipped a reply but in neither of them blamed the difference between the teachings inside a family or at least the authority they used to have and now they have lost or don’t want to exercise for any reason.

    Peter, you told us your mother said videogames were evil and that those words made echoe in you for not playing them, but at the same time you say that she never said anything about your violence or maybe it wouldn’t care to you so now you don’t even remember. You say your change started with some other adults, but why does it have to be another adult and not your family that makes the change? Does it not show a deficience in family in the matters of this topic?
    Now families separates as easy as they marry, there’s no commitment in couples and even for raising childs and everybody is trying to find someone or something to blame for things like this. Everyone blames public school, but no one remember that the people wanted to even God to be mentioned on them. Even putting the 10 commandments is seeing as bad (being more than half of them thing that are universal). Access to guns is so easy, why can you see that!?

    I’m not from the United States but things like violence, prostitution and many things that are “reproducing” very fast are not uncommon, but blame videogames seem like another scapegoat, why do we have to wait to other to take action on helping our family. I agree that videogame contents have to be regulated, we want to now what are we buying, but it’s our fault, the adults responsibility.

    I’m just 28, even younger than you, but this is so obvious to me. Why should I be proud for being a good father of a son/daugther if it’s a good student but if he/she does something bad it’s the fault of anyone else? Why do we teach them to be independent since childs? maybe are we evading responsibilities of the behaviour of the young adults we’re raising?

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  11. I am bothered to know that you carried loaded guns and carried knives with you to school and thought regularly about killing your peers. To me, this is very disturbing to know taking into consideration your blatant honesty. Its good to know that you went on to explain that even though you had these disturbing thoughts and weapons on hand that you chose not to act upon them. There is a lot to say about the right and wrongs of video games that are becoming excessively violent. To me there is more to say on the lack of direction we provide to the young children of today. Video games could steer more towards education – preparing children to become young Einsteins. We are wasting to much money on entertainment and not education. It is sad to see such young minds going to waste. We could spend money on studies on the effects of violent games but what about video games that teach mechanicing on cars, trucks or planes. Constructing a house in a virtual world from the ground up or even electrical connections to put together to see if the circuit you created failed or works. Anyways, that’s all I can say for now.

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  12. For your further consideration, I would like to offer this link to one of Robert Sapolsky’s Human Behavioral Biology Lectures from Stanford, specifically: “18. Aggression II.” This is where he starts to discuss more about the Frontal Cortex which develops in the brain as the center of learning for the Appropriate Contexts in which we might display behaviors, or “fixed action patterns” that we share with other non-human primates, those behaviors that might be more driven by “instinct”.

    As I learned later in this series, the human Frontal Cortex is the Slowest part of the brain to develop, not coming online fully until a person is around 25 years old, and, unfortunately, it is also one the first parts of the brain to lose neurons with aging. Most importantly, I think, is that it is also the Most Influenced By Environment, again it is the center of Learning from culture, from parental influence, from education, etc., what are considered Appropriate Contexts for our behaviors. It is also the part of the brain significantly influenced by dopamine to help us take The Harder Option, to help us learn to Delay Gratification, etc., etc. But, again, this is what we Learn as we grow in human culture.

    The “fixed action patterns” themselves may be more genetically driven or “instinctual”, but the contexts in which those patterns are to be expressed are LEARNED, and this is consequently the most maleable part of the human brain, the most maleable part of our (so called) “human nature”, and it is at the mercy of all kinds of factors that affect Individual Variability. That is why not All people who play violent video games become school shooters; i.e. there are Many Factors involved with what creates differences between individuals.

    Otherwise, and for whatever reasons, Human Culture as it has been for centuries is “producing” human beings with certain behaviors, along a broad continuum, but it is not necessarily just “human nature” to begin with, and therefore, with more conscious choices, especially conscious parenting, human beings can Learn to behave differently.

    In effect, we are “programming” the Frontal Cortex of our brains and of children’s brains, and we need to learn to be more conscious about how we do that.

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wLE71i4JJiM

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