Kevin McCarthy: We need to look at the role of video games in these shootings

In which the party of no ideas lives down to its reputation as it scrambles to resist a political offensive from the party of bad ideas.

McCarthy was prompted by comments made earlier by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who also blamed video games — and the lack of prayer in public schools — as contributing factors in the shootings:

The worst part of these answers isn’t that they’re wrong, it’s that they reek of wanting to change the subject. Republicans need something to offer voters demanding solutions to mass shootings but gun control and white nationalism are both topics of obvious discomfort to the GOP. Voila: Video games. It’s a neon sign flashing “Unserious.” Joe Cunningham at Red State is disgusted too:

But this position by McCarthy is not new, nor is it original. It is, however, very in-character of McCarthy to take the safest stance possible on an issue and not address the hard stuff. He won’t address guns, nor will he address white supremacy, violent political rhetoric, or mental health issues. All of these are hot issues in matters like these. McCarthy does not like controversy. He likes to lay low and play it safe on what positions he takes. He doesn’t want to offend anyone because that’s the easiest way to stay in power…

It is the coward’s way out, and it’s a disgrace to his position in the House and the Republican Party.

McCarthy has two things going for him here. One is that the El Paso shooter did mention “Call of Duty” in his manifesto, which is probably the peg for this talking point. A deeper point is that the droogs who populate 8Chan and who openly encourage white-nationalist attacks are prone to describing the death tolls in mass shootings as “getting a high score.” Case closed? Well, no. As the sample size expands, the relationship between video games and violence diminishes:

Even after a 2004 report conducted by the Secret Service and the Education Department found that only 12 percent of perpetrators in more than three dozen school shootings showed an interest in violent video games, lawmakers and public figures continued to blame the industry. In his 2008 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney cited “pornography and violence” in media, such as video games, as an inspiration for the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech that killed 32 people.

In 2011, the Supreme Court weighed in after Democrats in California passed a law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors. The court’s 7-2 decision found the law to be unconstitutional, with Scalia offering a majority opinion.

“Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively,” Scalia wrote. “Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.”

A study published earlier this year and flagged by Cunningham reaffirmed that there’s little evidence that video games cause aggression in teenagers. Which is intuitive: If video games were encouraging real-life violence, we should have seen higher rates of violent crime over the past 25 years as games grew more realistic, more graphic, and more ubiquitous. Instead we’ve seen the opposite. As much as I hate to draft Michael Avenatti into my side of a debate, his cross-cultural comparison here is apt too:

You wouldn’t expect as many mass shootings in cultures with stricter gun control, but if video games are desensitizing people to violence, you’d certainly expect to see more aggression in other forms. Where’s the murder epidemic in the video-game-crazy Far East?

There are, of course, violent video games available in the Middle East too, yet in almost 20 years since 9/11 I don’t think I’ve once heard an American politician wonder after a jihadist terror attack what games might have done to desensitize young Muslim men. That’s the problem with zeroing in on the “Call of Duty” mention in the shooter’s manifesto: One needs to overlook a lot of ideological rhetoric about his motive in order to seize on that as the key cause, which raises the question of why one is straining so hard to overlook it. As for the “high score” trash from 8Chan’s alt-righters, it’s a chicken-and-egg issue. Did video games lead them to view people as non-human targets? Or did their ideological views of nonwhites as non-human targets lead them to analogize to video games to conceptualize mass murder? Take away the video games and you still have murder without the “high score” winking. Take away the ideology and you don’t.

The ironic thing about McCarthy and Patrick scapegoating video games is that they’re playing a variation of the left’s game on gun control. To the left, it’s of no consequence that tens of millions of Americans own and operate guns responsibly. If the one percent of the one percent of the one percent go off, that’s reason enough to consider denying everyone access. “Right,” McCarthy and Patrick seem to say, “except with video games.” Wrong on both counts.