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GOP senators again target video games

At the beginning of today's Senate hearing on gun violence, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) proudly proclaimed, "There are too many video games that celebrate the mass killing of people."

On MSNBC this morning, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was thinking along the same lines (thanks to reader F.B. for the tip).

For those who can't watch clips online, Chuck Todd asked the senator, "Can you envision a way of supporting the universal background checks bill?" Alexander replied, "Chuck, I'm going to wait and see on all of these bills. You know, I think video games is [sic] a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people. But the First Amendment limits what we can do about video games and the Second Amendment to the Constitution limits what we can do about guns."

As Jed Lewison responded, "To repeat, those words came from the lips of a United States Senator. A Republican United States Senator, to be precise. Supposedly, he's one of the brightest bulbs in the Senate Republican conference."

That said, so long as the "blame video games" argument continues to percolate, it's probably worth taking a moment to set the record straight -- again.

As we discussed several weeks ago, even if we put aside the irony of the underlying point -- blaming simulated, pixelated guns is fine; blaming actual guns is not -- this isn't new. Plenty of officials, including folks like Joe Lieberman, have been arguing for years that violent games desensitizes young people to violence and contributes to a larger corrosive effect on the culture.

There's just very little evidence to support the claims. Hunches and cultural criticisms notwithstanding, social science research does not bolster the contention that gaming and gun violence are connected. (Adam Lanza was reportedly obsessed with "Dance Dance Revolution" -- which is a game, as the name suggests, about moving feet, not shooting weapons.)

For that matter, the United States is not the only country with young people who play a lot of video games, but it is the only country with high rates of gun violence.

Gaming is a huge cultural phenomenon in countries like South Korea, England, Japan, and Canada -- and they're all playing many of the same games Americans enjoy -- and yet, none of these countries comes close to the U.S. when it comes to deadly shootings.

And why not? Sociologists can speak to the differences in more detail, but I suspect it has something to do with access to firearms. It may seem tautological, but let's state it for the record anyway: societies with fewer guns have less gun violence, whether they're playing "Halo" or not.