Gun Control and Mental Health

Well, I guess that article I recently published on ethics has some relevance to the terrible news of late. Right now in the U.S. we are asking ourselves what went wrong, and what continues to go wrong, to make massacres like the one in Connecticut occur. We must be doing something wrong. The debate has drawn lines between gun control and mental health. We should talk about both.

Of course, in the gaming community everyone has seized on statements from the vapid Fox News network which accused gaming of being a key characteristic of the killer’s life. It’s absurd that anyone would think that because a person plays games, it’s the trigger that sends them off to kill. It may or may not be, but so might the water they drink.

Still, video games aren’t helping in the don’t-glorify-violence department. We play our part in feeding a culture of violence, but only our little part. In America, we back-burn the issues of healthcare and especially mental health, stigmatizing it to the point that people would rather kill themselves than get help. A violent culture combined with a culture which doesn’t believe in preventive care makes it possible for the Connecticut massacres of our time to take place.

GTA Driveby Art

Glorifying violence and allowing players creative license to commit heinous crimes can’t possibly be a good thing.

More and more people play games as the years go on, but I think most of them are playing games on their phones and they’re probably more similar to Farmville than Call of Duty. But the games industry is no angel when it comes to contributing to a culture of violence. Being an interactive medium, it’s possibly a much stronger influence than just watching a violent movie. Now I’m as rabid a video gamer as anyone, so I have no political stake in pointing out that games are potentially a greater donor to feeding a violent culture. I know some of you may be eager to attack that statement, but deep down we all know why it’s so easy to get defensive about it: there’s truth in it.

So for example, no one who ever watched Titanic learned how to sail. No one who ever watched Rambo learned how to shoot machine guns. No one learned how to box from watching Rocky. Contrast that with the fact that we train pilots with flight simulators in the gaming industry. There’s something to be said here for the kind of experiences games provide, far stronger than the visual appeal of movies and even stronger than the psycho-physicality™ of music. The video game experience is much more visceral. Engaging in violence in games desensitizes us in ways that movies just don’t. I’ll reiterate: this isn’t suggesting gamers are more prone to committing violence. I’m suggesting it makes us more accepting of it. It’s the acceptance of violence as a viable solution which is the problem. Whatever lead the Connecticut murderer to psychologically snap, we can be sure that he believed violence was a viable solution. I doubt he was a gamer of any sort and it’s irrelevant either way; it’s the culture in it’s entirety which breeds the acts of violence, not any particular contributor.

The uniqueness of video games as a medium makes it an especially potent deliverer of violent experiences.

Anyway, I only wanted to raise the question in the community as we all take the time to reflect. I wish I knew what to think about the massacre. I’m as lost for words and explanations as anyone. But I do know this: gun-control is a symptom. We should definitely take this time to open up a discussion about healthcare, specifically mental health. As a country we tend to back-burn this issue and go after guns instead. We fail to understand that you could melt down every gun in the country and we’d still have a lot of murderers on our hands and massacres would not stop. It’s not the weapons. It’s the people. But more than that we have to focus on preventive measures. Americans love to attack a problem after the fact. We scorn preventive measures from birth control to health care (nutrition and our emergency room mentality) to mental health. I don’t get it.

All I know is that now is the time to discuss healthcare, and mental health in particular. The sooner we take this seriously, the sooner we can save lives. Controlling guns will not control the violence. They are almost a non-factor.

7 thoughts on “Gun Control and Mental Health

  1. Azuriel

    “We fail to understand that you could melt down every gun in the country and we’d still have a lot of murderers on our hands and massacres would not stop. It’s not the weapons.”

    Did you see the story about the Chinese guy who stabbed 22 children on or near the same day of the CT thing? Zero deaths. I completely agree that mental health needs to be un-stigmatized, but I find it bizarre you would suggest gun control to be a mere “symptom” in the same post that posits videogame violence as a contributing factor to desensitization (at a minimum). As if, you know, anyone personally affected feels less because they might have played some GTA. Or that videogames contributes *more* to desensitization in general than 24/7 news stations streaming real death and destruction everyday.

    Even if the guy (I don’t care to remember his name) had free access to mental health counseling and wasn’t afraid of stigma for going, doesn’t mean he would have taken advantage of it; we certainly couldn’t force him to go in any case. We COULD, however, make it extremely difficult to get the assault rifle he used for the murders. He might have still used other means, sure, but the lethality of the attack would likely have been reduced. Guns are only a non-factor to gun violence if you concede that nothing can (or should) be changed.

    1. Doone Woodtac

      You assume that gun laws or any laws, are things criminals mind. Understand: the only people that will follow them are the people who wouldn’t commit the massacre in the first place. Laws disarm them, not criminals. Prohibition never worked, ANYWHERE.

      PLEASE FORGIVE ME …I am NOT an advocate of guns. At all. AT ALL. However, I’m more than willing to entertain the argument that guns don’t cause violence. They don’t.

      De-sensitizing people to violence has the effect of making it a viable solution. The more we see acts as acceptable, the more they are committed. The fact that we can’t put a gun on the table in a room full of maniacs is not proof that the gun is the problem.

      Yes, we should disarm. I’m definitely a pacifist and I don’t see any use for guns at all, so please don’t get me wrong on this. But I definitely don’t see guns as the problem, at all. If they are a problem, it’s because they are instruments of violence but not because they cause people to be violent. We have to attack the issue of having violent people in our society. Some people seem to think that we can’t get rid of violence, yet they think we can possibly get rid of guns — even assault rifles. There’s a real problem with that thinking because it shows that we are unwilling to engage one half of the issue and not the other. I wonder why that is often.

      1. Andrew Kleps

        Does desensitization cause violence in this sort of event? People don’t do massacres because the violence is meaningless. They don’t do it because they think it is nothing. It is the opposite. They commit the violence precisely because it is real, because they know it will affect other people; that is their goal. I’m not suggesting that desensitization is a good thing, but it is not the cause of mass murder such as this.

      1. Andrew Kleps

        What I mean is that a ability can be taught without necessarily encouraging its use. In most situations we teach those things that are needed and expected to be used, but games are not the same. I can play a football game and never expect to play football. I can play a game of world conquest and never expect to conquer anything at all.

        What matters is the user: a pilot’s flight simulator is a classroom while a gamer’s flight simulator is a game. But even in the case of the pilot, his use of the flight simulator is to better him at what he already plans to do: fly a plane. The simulator does not tell him to fly a plane; it only helps him learn to do what he already intends to do.

        1. Doone Woodtac

          I see what you mean, but they ultimately serve the same purpose even if they are different things: they enable.

          Don’t misunderstand me there: I made it explicitly clear that no one particular anything makes someone do something. It’s an aggregate of things with environment being a really key factor.

          Living in a culture of violence does desensitize us. And the ultimate effect of being desensitized is that violence is expected, becomes less disturbing, and becomes part of the norm. That’s certainly true in America though I can’t speak for other countries.

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