Straw Men and Scape Goats in the Gun Control Debate

My grandfather was fond of a certain saying, and it made him at once endearing and off-putting. It went something like this: I’d love to argue with you, but I’d have to educate you first. It’s a sentiment that many of us would do well to keep in mind.

The world is smaller than ever, thanks to the Internet. It used to feel like a big and unknowable place. Now we regularly communicate with people on distant shores, and receive international news as it’s breaking.

The great irony is this: as connected as we are, and as accessible as information is these days, ignorance and misinformation are just as common as they ever were.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the gun control debate. It’s disheartening to watch the conversations that unfold in the media and truly appreciate how many opinions are built on the shakiest of foundations. The fact is, many of us don’t have a practical knowledge of these contentious subjects beyond the fact that there is a debate.

Gun control has snowballed into something ugly that borders on hysteria, for people on both sides of the issue. As the issue has gained more traction, it’s swept up other issues as well, from background checks to mental health issues to video games. Everyone thinks they know where the problem comes from, and how to fix it.

I don’t know how many heated conversations I’ve had about the purported correlation between violent video games and violent behavior. Many of the people I spoke with tended to shoot from the hip (pun very much intended), basing their opinions on emotion or misinformation instead of calling on empirical fact (or in this case, a lack thereof).

Gun control and video gamesI’m keen to remind them that correlation does not always equal causation. Many people see fit to lump the “debate” over violent video games in with the question of gun control. In point of fact, there is no scientific data to suggest that violent acts can be traced to violent video games. If you don’t trust me, consider this statement from Christopher Ferguson, a researcher at the University of Texas A&M: “A history of teen delinquency, lower intelligence, and a history of school problems all predicted adult criminality… Media use was not associated with either increased or decreased risk of adult criminality.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t cases where the two are related, but the evidence overwhelmingly points to the fact that most people can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. As Cheryl Olson points out in the New York Times’ Opinion Pages: “It’s perverse, but it’s also pretend.”

Regrettably, video games – and all of their First and Second Amendment baggage – have become a political lightning rod. The saddest part of all is that the stigmatization of this art form (we’ll save the video games-as-art debate for another time) stems largely from those who misunderstand it. They’re looking for an easy explanation to a complicated problem. The gun control debate demands real-world solutions, not straw men and scape goats.

There are plenty of arguments worth having; after all, we can’t grow unless we immerse ourselves in opinions that differ from our own, you wouldn’t argue with someone over the best rehab center to go to or anything personal.  Let’s just make sure we educate ourselves before we try to educate others.

 

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Author:  Courtney Gordner. You can read more of her thoughts on her blog, TalkViral.com .