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Frank W.
Former Republican VA 10
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    Violent Media Role in Mass Shootings

    by Former Representative Frank R. Wolf

    Posted on 2013-02-28

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    WOLF. Today, I rise as the father of five and the grandfather of 16--many of whom are of the age to play video games--to express my deep concerns about the lack of discussion on mental health issues and violent media and the role they play in mass shootings.

    As we continue to seek ways to end mass violence, in addition to gun safety, we must address the impacts of mental illness and, of equal importance, violent video games, movies, and TV.

    I have supported legislation that would keep guns from getting into the wrong hands. I voted for the Brady Bill in 1993, safety lock requirements, and provisions that help police conduct effective background checks. My father was a Philadelphia policeman.

    As chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Justice Department, I have increased funding for the national background check [[Page H812]] system to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill and violent criminals. In fact, my bill provided more than double the funding requested by both the President's and the Senate's budget plan.

    In January, I wrote to ask Attorney General Holder to use existing funds to immediately improve the Nation's background check system. In addition, I asked the Obama administration to create a national center for campus public safety, which has strong support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the Virginia Tech Family Outreach Foundation, a group of families and victims of the shooting at Virginia Tech. In fact, the idea for my bill to create the national center for campus public safety came from the Virginia Tech families and lead cosponsor, Congressman Bobby Scott from the State of Virginia. I'm expecting a response from the Justice Department soon. The shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre lived in my congressional district, and a number of the victims were from my district. I have met with their families, and I understand they are hurting.

    Dealing with mental illness has to be part of the solution. I have long advocated for measures that prevent health insurers from placing discriminatory restrictions on mental health and addiction treatments. I continue to remain hopeful that the nearly 20 million Americans who suffer from mental illness receive the treatment they need.

    Mr. Speaker, though, I was disappointed that President Obama did not seize the opportunity to address, in depth, the role of mental health and media violence as factors of mass violence during his State of the Union address. To only focus on guns, on just one piece of a very large and complicated puzzle, is simply irresponsible.

    The President said that the victims of mass shootings, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the college students at Virginia Tech, the children at Sandy Hook, the high school students at Columbine, and the movie-goers in Aurora, all deserve a vote for gun control proposals. How can he, in good conscience, call for that but not acknowledge the fact that each one of these shooters in these events was mentally disturbed? How could he not acknowledge the role that violent media played in some of their lives? The President is failing the American people and the families of the victims by remaining frustratingly silent on these crucial issues and ignoring the other central factors related to mass violence of this kind.

    As I mentioned, in a number of tragic shootings, there has been a pattern of the shooters playing or even imitating violent video games.

    Let's begin with Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who shot 69 people at a youth camp in 2011. Forbes Magazine reported that Anders used the video game ``Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2'' as a simulator to help him practice shooting people. Anders said: I just bought ``Modern Warfare 2,'' the game. It is probably the best military simulator out there, and it's one of the hottest games this year.

    He goes on to say: I see ``Modern Warfare 2'' more as a part of my training- simulation than anything else. You can more or less completely simulate actual operations.

    And who can forget that day at Columbine High School when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 13 classmates and wounded 23 others before turning the guns on themselves? The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which tracks Internet hate groups, found in its archives a copy of Harris' Web site with a version of the first-person shooter video game ``Doom'' that he had customized. In Harris' version, there are two shooters, each with extra weapons and unlimited ammunition, and the other people in the game cannot fight back.

    For a class project, Harris and Klebold made a videotape that was similar to their customized version of ``Doom.'' In the video, Harris and Klebold dress in trench coats, carry guns, and kill school athletes. They acted out their videotape performance in real life less than a year later.

    An investigator at the Wiesenthal Center said Harris and Klebold were ``playing out their game in God mode.'' In another videotape, Harris referred to a sawed-off shotgun as ``Arlene,'' a favorite character in the ``Doom'' video game. Harris said, ``It's gonna be like (expletive) Doom.'' And now we have a report this month from the Hartford Courant that says that Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza may have been imitating violent video games as well. The Courant reports: During a search of the Lanza home after the deadly school shootings, police found thousands of dollars' worth of graphically violent video games.

    The paper goes on to say: And detectives working the scene of the massacre are exploring whether Adam Lanza might have been emulating the shooting range or a video game scenario as he moved from room to room at Sandy Hook, spewing bullets, law enforcement sources have told the Courant.

    Then he goes on to say, Mr. Speaker: Before he killed his mother and set off for Sandy Hook Elementary, Adam Lanza destroyed the hard drive on his computer, which probably kept some of the records of the games he played and who he played with. He also may have destroyed any chance to see if he had a manifesto or had written down anything indicating that he planned the shootings or why he chose the elementary school.

    Let me repeat, Adam Lanza may have been emulating a video game shooter or scenario as he went room to room at Sandy Hook. What parent cannot see this problem? This week, I had the opportunity to meet with a few elementary school principals from my congressional district. During the course of our discussion, the issue of media violence, particularly violent video games, came up. One principal said that when children misbehave in school and he asks them why, they will frequently say that they saw it in a video game. Another principal with him said the problem with video games is that, when young children are playing violent ones where they shoot or kill other characters, there are no repercussions or punishment, and usually the characters will even come back to life. This gives children and adolescents whose brains are still developing no sense of reality. He also said that video games desensitize kids to violence.

    How can we continue to ignore what common sense is telling us? Just take one look at the movie trailers and how violent they are. Some of the video games on the market today like ``Call of Duty'' and ``Halo'' all give points for killing another character. Players are rewarded for shooting people. The level of violence in ``Grand Theft Auto'' is astonishing.

    {time} 1400 Players drive around, shoot people, including police officers, pick up prostitutes, and then kill them. There is a racial element to it also.

    Soon after the Newtown shooting, I asked the National Science Foundation to pull together experts from across the country to look at the impact of all three contributors to mass violence. These experts include Dr. Brad Bushman from Ohio State University, along with several other scholars from top-tier universities across the Nation, including Johns Hopkins; Georgetown; Columbia University; University of Pennsylvania; Penn State; Carnegie Mellon; and the University of California, Berkeley. And we will have the list at the end of this statement. Earlier this month, the NSF released a report compiled by these experts whose names, as I said, will appear at the end of the statement.

    It draws on reliable evidence and a number of theories to explain youth violence that have emerged from decades of research, including research supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Research Council, and other Federal agencies.

    According to the report, violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, psychological arousal and aggressive behavior, and decrease helping behavior and feelings of empathy for others. The report compiled by these experts shows that rating systems have not kept up with the increasingly violent content of popular media, and there is no standard rating system in the U.S. across varying media platforms.

    Dr. Bushman, who holds the Margaret Hall and Robert Randal Rinehart chair at Ohio State University and is widely respected in his field, offers a solution to this issue. There could be a universal rating system on all media, with universal symbols that are easy for parents to understand. The Pan European Game Information system, for [[Page H813]] example, has five age-based ratings: 3-plus, 7-plus, 12-plus, 16-plus, and 18-plus; and six well-recognizable symbols for potentially objectionable material: violence, sex, drugs, discrimination, fear, and gambling.

    The current rating system is confusing to parents. For example, there is R for movies, TV-MA for TV, and FV for fantasy violence in video games.

    Another possible idea, which is something that I have long advocated for, is to put warning labels on violent video games. The report also quotes: More research is also needed on what types of individuals are most strongly affected by violent video games. Many of the spree shooters have been described as ``social outcasts.'' Are such individuals more likely to behave aggressively after playing a violent video game? Are such individuals more likely to play violent games alone? A copy of the National Science Foundation report can be found on my Web site at www.wolf.house.gov. Let me say that again, because parents might want to look at this, and hopefully the Members of the body on both sides will look at it, and hopefully members of the administration will look at it. A copy will appear at www.wolf.house.gov. And these are the views of these experts.

    I am not naive enough to think that video game violence is the only issue here. We need to have an honest discussion about media violence, TV, movies, and video games. We need to have an honest discussion about mental health. And we need to have an honest discussion about guns.

    It is easy for the President to go after the NRA. He doesn't support the NRA, and the NRA doesn't support him. But will the President of the United States ever, ever ask the entertainment industry to get involved or will he continue to be silent? While media violence is not the only factor of mass violence, it is one of the easiest factors to change and it needs to be addressed, in addition to looking at access to firearms and mental health.

    Don't we owe it to all the victims who have been killed to look at everything? With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

    Participants of the Subcommittee on Youth Violence of the Advisory Committee to the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate, National Science Foundation Katherine S. Newman, Ph. D., Dean of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University Brad J. Bushman, Ph.D., Professor of Communication and Psychology, Margaret Hall and Robert Randal Rinehart Chair of Mass Communication, The Ohio State University and Professor of Communication Science, VU University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands Sandra L. Calvert, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Director of the Children's Digital Media Center, Georgetown University Geraldine Downey, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Dean of Social Sciences, Columbia University Dan Romer, Ph.D., Director, Adolescent Communication Institute, Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania Calvin Morrill, Ph.D., Professor of Law and Sociology and Director, Center for the Study of Law and Society, University of California, Berkeley Michael Gottfredson, Ph.D., President and Professor of Sociology, University of Oregon Ann S. Masten, Ph.D., Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Development, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota Mark Dredze, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor of Computer Science, Johns Hopkins University Daniel B. Neill, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Information Systems; Director, Event and Pattern Detection Laboratory, H.J. Heinz III College, Carnegie Mellon University Daniel W. Webster, ScD, MPH, Professor and Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research Nina G. Jablonski, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University ____________________

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