Monday, December 17, 2012

Conservatives Attack First Amendment, Blaming It For Gun Violence

Articulating what may become the basis for a bi-partisan agreement on dealing with gun violence in the USA, Joe Scarborough attached blame for the rash of mass shootings in America to what he called a "toxic brew" of violent media, cooked up by Hollywood and violent video game producers, and the proliferation of military-style firearms. Some Democrats have echoed these sentiments, and the intent may be to trade diminished rights in the First Amendment for diminished rights (i.e., an assault-style weapons ban) in the Second Amendment.
After insisting that a blatantly stupid and offensive anti-Islamic video, which sparked violent protests in the Middle East, had to be defended in the interest of protecting free speech, conservatives are beginning to craft an argument that blames gun violence on violent media.

Conservatives may see the attack on the First Amendment as a way of negotiating a compromise with Democrats, who, after the Newtown carnage, will likely push for some kind of ban on certain kinds of firearms and hi-capacity magazines. The view is that a majority of the American people, horrified by the death toll of young children in Friday’s school attack, will side with the Democrats for once on gun control.

The conservatives will argue that while the Second Amendment rights might need to be trimmed back some, the real problem is that mentally ill people are being encouraged to commit violent acts by consuming violent media. Conservatives are repeatedly stating that it is obvious that violent media leads to commissions of violent criminal acts, but they are not backing up these claims with any facts, or references to any studies that support their assertions.

For example, yesterday on Meet the Press, former head of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, plainly said that violent media could corrode personalities into violence-prone threats:
"The conversation should start with the premise that our children—no child is born violent...Mental health is a component of [the problem]. We haven’t even started talking about the corrosive influence of a violent-oriented world—TV, video games, shoot-to-kill video games. When you’re in the military you learn that your target may shoot back, but you get in this digital world, this fantasy world, that I think—you take a look at the folks at Columbine, Aurora, et cetera, suddenly it’s—it’s a different personality type. And I think we need to understand that."
David Brooks, who one might not think would be a defender of violent video games, then rejected Ridge's analysis:
"Well, I had thought video games have played a role, too, but this has been studied. There have been hundreds, unfortunately, of these shooters over the decades and very few of them had any contact with violent video games and generally tend to be older, it tends to be not part of who they were, it tends to not have driven them."
However, Brooks' view, particularly on the right, is definitely in the minority so far.

Exactly what kinds of restrictions conservatives wish to impose on violent video games and movies, they have not specified. But the chant from the right that the problem is not guns, but rather a violent culture, has been picked up on the left already, and may offer an obvious way for Democrats to obtain the support of Republicans to craft some kind of limited gun-ban bill.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, was explicit in blaming violent video games for the rash of shootings, including in his own state, saying:
"Certainly the culture of violence, and look at the level of violence in our media, video games—the depiction of these assault weapons, again and again, there might well be some direct connection between people who have mental instability, and when they go over the edge, they transpose themselves. They become part of one of those video games."
That idea was also articulated today by Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough, in a special message delivered to viewers:
“The violence we see spreading from shopping malls in Oregon to movie theaters in Colorado, to college campuses in Virginia, to elementary schools in Connecticut: it’s being spawned by the toxic brew of a violent popular culture, a growing mental health crisis, and the proliferation of combat-style weapons…Good luck to the Hollywood lawyer, who tries to blunt the righteous anger of millions of parents, by hiding behind twisted readings of our Bill of Rights...Mind-numbing video games, and gruesome Hollywood movies... dangerously desensitize those who struggle with mental health challenges.”
Scarborough, who admits to having been for years a big pusher of unlimited gun rights—he says the NRA gave him its highest rating when he was a congressman—now claims he’s had a change of heart after the Newtown shooting.

By introducing the argument that part of the problem is that the mentally ill might see something in violent media that would set them off, and so we need to restrict free speech to avoid this happening, Republicans perhaps hope to provide themselves with some face-saving room to be able to explain to their most extreme supporters (many of whom hate Hollywood almost as much as they hate President Obama) why Republicans are suddenly OK with banning some guns and gun rights.

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