Violent video games back in Newtown focus

News reports yesterday about the Newtown shooting in December brought video games back into the spotlight.  The shooter, Adam Lanza, had collected “a trove” of violent video games, mainly first-person shooters that required kill shots in order to score points and advance through the levels of the game:

Police investigating the Newtown school killings have been looking into the possibility that gunman Adam Lanza may have been copying a video game as killed 26 people in the massacre.

Two months after the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School, little remains known about Lanza’s motive.

Before the killings, he had smashed his hard drive, making his online trail and habits impossible to follow, but police did reportedly find thousands of dollars worth of violent video games.

It is believed that Lanza played the games, which included the Call of Duty series, for hours on end.

Does that level of playing such games mean teens and young adults are about to become mass murderers?  CBS News threw a dash of cold water on that idea last night, emphasis mine:

Dr. Christopher Ferguson, department chair of psychology and communications at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, says he has not come across any link between playing violent video games and likelihood for violent behavior.

Ferguson, who presented for Biden’s task force in January, said many people understand at this point that most people who play violent video games won’t become violent themselves and that there is a mental health component at play. That’s different from after Columbine, he said, when many questions were raised about video games as motivations for violence. However, his studies, which have looked at people with mental health issues, including those prone to bullying violence, have found no added risk.

“We can’t find any evidence that those kids are affected either,” Ferguson told, referring to children with mental health problems.

Ferguson argues that youth violence has been at a 40-year low, while violent video games remain popular. He finds it interesting how in the wake of Sandy Hook, video games have gotten a lot of blame, but when high-profile shootings involve older adults — like 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, who shot a bus driver then kidnapped a 5-year-old and kept him in a bunker for days, or 62-year-old William Spengler, who allegedly shot and killed two first responders and injured two more firefighters in December after strangling his sister — people don’t look for similar sources to blame.

What don’t these cases have in common?  Violent video games — and that’s a good thing, because millions of people play them without becoming berserkers.  What do they have in common?  Mental health issues, whether manifested “at play” (obviously not the meaning CBS assigned to that phrase, but noteworthy nonetheless) or elsewhere.  As CBS’ John Miller reports, the mental-health component in the Newtown case was obvious even before the shooting, and had little to do with either the games or the guns.  It had to do with a mentally-ill young adult and a broken home, and some very clear warning signs that either got missed or ignored:

Before we begin attacking the First or Second Amendments in a rush to avoid the next act of unpredictable violence, let’s wait until we know what the problems actually are.