Washington Post op-ed writer Eugene Robinson has a unique dilemma when it comes to controlling violence. Robinson, who within days of the Newtown shootings, argued in print that we need to ban assault weapons, “examine the impact of hyper-violent video games on impressionable minds,” and — yes — “talk about mental health issues,” has taken a giant step backward on that last proposal.
In his column on Thursday, he again took up the call to ban military-style rifles, along high-capacity magazines, and mentioned that Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was a devotee of “Call of Duty,” which Robinson describes as an “an extremely violent — and popular — video game.”
But it appears Robinson has rethought his position on mental health, maybe because the National Rifle Association (aka, the enemy) sees promise in it. His reasoning in any case is interesting:
The NRA would say that the issue here is mental health, not firearms. But there are plenty of young men who play gory video games and harbor violent fantasies. How can you pick out the few who lose all distinction between fantasy and reality? Clearly, Nancy Lanza [mother of Adam] couldn’t. I don’t think anyone really can. [Emphasis added]
Two comments. First, the linkage between “gory video games” and “violent fantasies” that Robinson accepts as gospel is tenuous. As reported here, a study conducted in 2012 by researchers at Texas A&M found that exposure to violent games “had neither short-term nor long-term predictive influences on either positive or negative outcomes.” Second, and more important, is that laypersons — like Nancy Lanza — are never going to “pick out the few” who exhibit maniacal tendencies that prompt them to pick up arms and go out on shooting sprees. That is a hopelessly naïve, and misleading, characterization of what the NRA and rational thinkers have in mind when they advocate the need for better mental health checks.
It’s hard to know what Eugene Robinson has in mind, if anything.
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