Guns Blazing on the Silver Screen

What a new study on movie violence tells us about gun control.

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A new study coming out in next month's issue of "Pediatrics" (which was published online yesterday) shows that the level of gun violence in the top PG-13 films is rising. Violence with a gun shows up, on average, twice an hour! Episodes of gun violence in PG-13-rated movies have been on the rise since the 1980's when that rating was introduced in American cinema.

Living 20 minutes from Hollywood here in Los Angeles, I know how much both guns and movies mean to our society, and I also know that Hollywood's all about the supply and demand when distributing it's products. Hollywood gives us violent movies, specifically shoot em' up violent films, and we eat them up. 

The problem, though, is that our children are acting on that behavior. Violence sells, but what if the audience can't handle what Hollywood's selling? In my opinion, many of these films that are rated PG-13 should be in the R-rated category. Our children simply can't handle the violence that they're taking in. And we have no way of truly knowing what transpires once that amount of violence is stored in that wonderful computer called our brain.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

Due to our puritanical history, we care more about blocking access to sex than violence. Sex isn't our problem America, violence is. If extreme sex is rated R, why isn't extreme violence?

After the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, many Americans questioned the effect of violent TV and video games on our kids, because the shooters at Columbine watched violent movies and played violent video games. So what's the answer to that question?  Ironically, I think that question's been asked and answered, years ago.

Remember the Bobo doll? I do. It was taught in my junior high psychology class. It was a study where they showed adults acting aggressively and some were rewarded for their behavior. The children that watched that? They acted more aggressively. Monkey see, monkey do. And in this case, the monkey is our kids. The conclusion of the study? Our children learn behavior by watching the people around them, a theory which came to be called social learning theory.

So although I can't stand most of what they stand for, perhaps the NRA was partially right when they point to violent movies and video games as causes of gun violence. The stats show our kids are significantly more likely to act aggressively toward others when they see violence; so how many lives could we save if we reduced the amount of violence our children are exposed to and reduced their access to guns? 

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Newtown shooting.]

For those that cite the Japanese as watching violent movies and video games, they don't have access to guns. They can't walk into a gun show with a fake ID and buy one without a background check. And they do not have a culture of violence either.

The fear I have as both a parent and a member of this society is that our children might be more and more desensitized since they're exposed to so much violence. Just look at the number of shootings in our nation's schools in the past few years.

Now, I've mentioned films, but I can't avoid video games. There is a newly released shooter video game called "Call of Duty: Ghosts." This game made $1 billion (yes, with a 'b') in sales within 24 hrs! The video game is rated 17 and up, but something tells me that, due to the number sold, there are children under 17 viewing this as well. This game is also used by our U.S. military to attract new recruits. 

Between these films and these games, I believe real-life violence and real-life war seems less real to our children and young adults because it is romanticized and often the bad guy, not the good, is now the hero. 

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress Support Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases?]

We owe it to our children and the future safety of our society to demand that  R-rated material stay in R-rated films for those 17 and older, not for those 13 and older. And we owe it to our children and the safety of our society to prevent our children from accessing guns. This can be acccomplished with universal background checks and more responsible gun ownership by the parents and other members of their families.

If the level of violence of our youth continues, we have not only failed them, but ourselves and the future of our nation.

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