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The top House Republican is blaming video games for the weekend’s mass shootings

“The idea that these video games that dehumanize individuals, to have a game of shooting individuals ... I’ve always felt that it’s a problem for future generations and others.”

Police keep watch outside Walmart near the scene of a mass shooting which left at least 20 people dead on August 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

In an interview on Fox and Friends, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy blamed video games that “dehumanize individuals” for mass shootings this weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. “To have a game of shooting individuals and others, I’ve always felt that is a problem for future generations and others.”

The Republican leader shared his opinion when asked to respond to similar comments Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made on the popular Fox News morning show. The lieutenant governor noted that the El Paso shooting appeared to be a “hate crime against immigrants, but he also pointed to “a video game industry that teaches young people to kill” and the “violence of bullying people on social media” as possible reasons for the shootings.

This is not a new misdiagnosis in response to mass shootings. Though authorities currently believe that the shooting in El Paso may be linked to anti-immigrant hate (based on a manifesto that was reportedly posted by the shooter), video games have become an easy target for politicians of all stripes following acts of mass violence. Violent video games, after all, are far easier to confront politically (if not practically) than either white supremacy or the wide availability of guns that inspire or make mass acts of violence possible.

After the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, last spring, Trump hosted a roundtable meeting at the White House with representatives from the video game industry to talk about violence in video games, but he included a host of stridently anti-video game voices.

One attendee, Dave Grossman, has described first-person shooter games as “murder simulators” and wrote in 2016 that experts who denied ties between video games and violence in youth will “be viewed as the moral equivalent of Holocaust deniers.” Another, Brent Bozell, wondered in 2011, “Which sick CEO sits in a boardroom and says ‘yes’ to ultraviolent scenes” in video games?... Bozell told the Washington Post he said to Trump at the meeting that violent games “needed to be given the same kind of thought as tobacco and liquor.”

Historically, the video game industry has had the Constitution on its side:

In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Court ruled 7-2 that a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors was unconstitutional. In his opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the evidence provided to the Court showing that violent video games had an effect on aggression in children also showed that similar effects had been found in children shown Bugs Bunny cartoons.

“California’s effort to regulate violent video games is the latest episode in a long series of failed attempts to censor violent entertainment for minors,” he wrote, but “even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply.”

According to the ESA, 65 percent of American households contain someone who plays video games regularly, making the video game industry one of the country’s most powerful (and pervasive.) So while Thursday’s meeting may have been tough for those from the industry in attendance, there’s a good chance that any potential regulation would be relatively weak to avoid challenges in court.

There is no evidence that either shooting was inspired by video games, though Lt. Gov. Patrick noted that the manifesto that may have been written by the El Paso shooter referenced the popular game Call of Duty. That the manifesto was laser-focused on the desire to “defend” his country “from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion” of Hispanic immigrants went unmentioned by McCarthy.

Dan Hewitt, the vice president of communications for the Entertainment Software Association (the trade association for the gaming industry), rejected suggestions that video games lead to violent behavior in a statement to Vox.

“Study after study has established that there is no casual link between video games and real world violence,” Hewitt wrote. “Violent crime has been decreasing in our country at the very time that video games have been increasing in popularity. And other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the US.”

Hewitt added, “Pointing fingers at video games should not be allowed to obscure other factors that likely contribute to such incidents.”