Obama calls for CDC to study whether video games are linked to violence

“We don’t benefit from ignorance,” Obama said at the White House event. “We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.”

Obama plans to issue a presidential memorandum that will direct the CDC and scientific agencies to study the causes of gun violence and how to reduce it, the briefing document said. In the meantime, the CDC will start reviewing existing strategies to prevent gun violence and crafting questions that will direct its research.

Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook, the video game and entertainment industries have come under scrutiny from lawmakers and the National Rifle Association for producing violent content. Administration officials met with top representatives from the video game, motion picture and TV industries — among other stakeholders and business groups — last week to discuss cutting down on gun violence in the U.S.

In a statement issued after the president’s speech, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) said “tragic levels” of gun violence remain unique to the U.S., but emphasized that scientific research and data have shown that entertainment content is not to blame for violent behavior.

“Scientific research and international and domestic crime data all point toward the same conclusion: Entertainment does not cause violent behavior in the real world,” said the ESA, which represents the video game lobby in Washington. “We will embrace a constructive role in the important national dialogue around gun violence in the United States, and continue to collaborate with the administration and Congress as they examine the facts that inform meaningful solutions.”

Lawmakers and the administration are hamstrung from regulating violent content in media due to a ruling handed down from the Supreme Court last year striking down a California law that restricted the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

Even with the president’s call for the CDC to examine the relationship between violence and video games, communications attorney Andrew Schwartzman warns that “one study would not be enough to change the legal environment” due to this ruling. 

“It would require a body of research,” he said.

Schwartzman noted that the profitable video game industry will be able to build up a war chest to protect itself in the long run, despite the criticism it’s faced after the recent spate of shootings in the U.S.
“They won’t be asleep at the switch,” he said.

The president will also direct the attorney general to review existing gun-safety technologies with tech experts and issue a report on the use and availability of that technology.

Following the unveiling of Obama’s plan, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he intends to reintroduce a bill next week that would direct the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on whether violent video games and programming cause children to act aggressively, or hurt their well-being. Rockefeller first introduced the bill shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting.

Justin Sink contributed to this report. This post was updated at 5:21 p.m.

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