Gov't Report on Mass Shootings: Violent Media, Mental Health, Access to Guns All Play Role

By Penny Starr | February 19, 2013 | 9:51pm EST


This undated publicity image released by Activision shows soldiers and terrorists battling in the streets of Yemen in a scene from the video game, “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” (AP Photo/Activision)

( – The factors that can play a role in causing an individual to kill numerous people in a mass shooting include access to guns, but mental health and violent media also influence behavior, according to a government report.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) requested the report, “Youth Violence: What We Need to Know,” after the Newtown, Conn., shootings that claimed the lives of 26 people, including 20 children at an elementary school last December.

The National Science Foundation, an “independent U.S. government agency responsible for promoting science and engineering through research programs and education projects,” released the report earlier this month.

The report states that access to guns is a factor in mass shootings, but discusses in-depth the role violent media, social status and mental illness play in such cases.

In a statement announcing the report on Feb. 14, Wolf said he was disappointed that President Barack Obama only focused on gun control in his State of the Union address.

“While I recognize the potential constitutional issues involved in tackling media violence, mental health parity and gun control, I am disappointed that mental health issues and media violence were left out of the president’s address,” Wolf said.

“The president said that the victims of mass shootings, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the college students at Virginia Tech, the children at Sandy Hook, the high school students at Columbine, and the movie-goers in Aurora all deserve a vote for gun control proposals,” Wolf said.

“How can he in good conscience call for that, but not acknowledge the fact that each one of the shooters in those events was mentally disturbed?” Wolf said. “How could he not acknowledge the role that violent media played in some of their lives?

“The president has failed the American people and the families of the victims by remaining frustratingly silent on these crucial issues and ignoring the other central factors related to mass violence of this kind,” Wolf said.

The report stated studies show that violent video games do affect behavior.

“Violent video games increase aggressive thoughts and behavior, angry feelings and physiological arousal, and decrease helping behavior and feelings of empathy for others,” the report stated.

The report examined the role that violent media has played in past mass shootings.

“Public debate on the link between violent media and aggressive and violent behavior can be contentious, especially in the wake of a shooting rampage,” the report stated. “Anders Breivik, who murdered 69 youth in Norway, claims he used the video game ‘Modern Warfare 2’ as a military simulator to help him practice shooting people.

“Similarly, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who murdered 13 fellow students in Colorado, claimed they used the violent video game ‘Doom’ to practice their shooting rampage,” the introduction stated.  “Violent video games have also been implicated in other school shootings (e.g., Bethel, Alaska; Paducah, Ky.; Jonesboro, Ark.).

“It is not possible to know whether playing violent games caused Breivik, Harris and Klebold (or any other killer) to shoot their victims.

“However, a comprehensive review of more than 381 effects from studies involving more than 130,000 participants around the world shows that violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure), and aggressive behavior.”

One of the subcommittee summaries included in the report stated that violent media helps aggressive youth condone their behavior.

“Aggressive youth often consume violent media because it allows them to justify their own behavior as being normal. A child’s own aggressive behavior normally should elicit guilt, but this guilt is relieved if the child who has behaved aggressively consumes violent media. The reduction in guilt that consuming violence provides makes continued aggressive and violent behavior by that child even more likely.

Mental illness as a factor for leading individuals to conduct mass murder is also examined. Perpetrators are generally at the early onset of severe mental illness, with symptoms they find frightening, but often go entirely undiagnosed or untreated, according to the report.

Those who survive into their 20s often develop full-blown mental disorders that are immediately recognized, but at the age of 12-14, these conditions are often just beginning, but lead the shooter to magnify slights and feel severely depressed by rejection, the report showed.

The report includes a wide-range of proposals for further research and means to ending youth violence, including studies to examine the role played by the Internet and social media, and putting into place a federal law that would not allow individuals under 21 to legally own a gun.

The 43-page report was the work of the Subcommittee on Youth Violence of the Advisory Committee to the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate within NSF, a group comprised of experts in this field of study from the following universities and institutions: The Ohio State University, VU University in Amsterdam, Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, Columbia University, University of Oregon, Penn State University, University of Minnesota, University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pennsylvania. NSF selected the participants.

Wolf, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, said he would hold a hearing on the report’s findings in the spring.

Last year, the House passed the fiscal year 2013 CJS appropriations bill, which increased funding for the background check system to levels higher than those proposed by both the Senate and the White House to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill and violent criminals,” according to Wolf’s office.

Wolf also supported the 1994 Brady Bill, a federal law requiring background checks for gun purchases in the United States.

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