MARTINSBURG – U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller is pushing for a bill that would require the National Academies of Science to study the effect of violent movies, television, internet content and video games on children.
“It’s a major American subject: that is, the effect of media and video games, movies, the internet on young people,” Rockefeller said, at a roundtable discussion in Martinsburg Monday.
Rockefeller criticized a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. “It’s a major problem. The Supreme Court doesn’t think so. They say it is no worse than reading a classical novel. I don’t agree with that.”
“When they sort of tossed the whole thing to the side as if it didn’t matter, they said you had to establish a causal relationship,” he added.
Rockefeller hopes funding an NAS study will produce evidence of such a causal relationship.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the relationship between violent video games and aggressive behavior, with widely varying conclusions. Even meta-studies – aggregations of large numbers of studies – do not produce consistent conclusions, with some finding there is a strong link between violent video games and aggression and others finding no connection at all.
Some also find a link between such games and increased spatial cognitive skills.
Rockefeller said he thinks the balance of research favors the notion that violent media is linked to aggression. “There are a lot of experts on both sides of this field – but more on our side than on their side – which say that this causes damage,” he said.
“If people want to say that everyone has a right to watch it, I can’t argue with that. But I’d like to,” Rockefeller said. “We need to find a way to protect our children, and people in general.”
He said he worries that both the availability of guns and of violent media are increasing incidents of both general and gun violence. “It happens much more frequently in our society than it used to. And it happens more frequently in West Virginia than it used to. Violence is growing. I want to see it stopped. That’s why I’m here.”
FBI data shows, however, that the national violent crime rate – as well as all measured subcategories of violent crime and of property crime – have declined precipitously in the last two decades. The data shows further that the violent crime rate has declined each year between 1992 and 2011, other than two slight upticks in 2005 and 2006.
The 2011 violent crime rate was 49 percent lower than the rate in 1992. The murder rate was 50 percent lower, robbery 57 percent lower, assault 45 percent lower and rape 37 percent lower.
The picture on gun violence is more murky.
Data from the CDC shows that national gun homicide rates have varied significantly between 1999 and 2010, but it does not show an increasing rate in recent years. 2010, the most recent year for which data exists, was the year with the lowest gun homicide rate in that decade, and the rate declined every year after 2006. Significant variation in the data, however, means that this apparent trend could be random.
According to FBI data, the West Virginia did increase dramatically – nearly 60 percent – between 2010 and 2011, but that is largely attributable to the fact that there were abnormally few gun murders in 2010. The number of gun murders in West Virginia has varied significantly from year to year, and there is no clear trend observable in the data between 2002 and 2011.