Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 17, 2013
The video game disease

If you live in America and would come down with a case of the bubonic plague or smallpox or something similarly serious, a group of guys in airtight suits would turn up and put you and your family into quarantine. These guys are from the Center of Disease Control. If they don't turn up, they probably were too busy playing video games, because that is what president Obama just asked them to do. They are supposed to "study the causes of violent behavior. That includes looking into violent media like movies, television, and video games."

Now I fully understand that Obama needed to start that study on violent video games and other media, if only to balance his task force on gun control. This way he can reply to the nutjobs who say "guns don't cause shootings, it is video games that cause it" that he is covering that option as well. We all know that ultimately a law limiting access to assault weapons is more likely than one limiting access to video games. But I found the Center of Disease Control a particularly weird choice of organization to study video games. Maybe it is because of their expertise in preparing for the zombie apocalypse?

Note that while both guns and video games are protected by the constitution in the USA, that isn't much of an argument against restrictions. The "right to bear arms" for example already doesn't cover military style weapons like a Stinger portable missile system. The question is only where exactly you draw the line. While guns can have completely legitimate purposes like hunting or self-protection, it is valid to ask what exactly somebody would need an assault weapon or armor-piercing bullets for. To hunt dinosaurs? Video games are protected as "free speech", but again existing law already limits access for some people to some forms of "free speech", for example porn. Stricter enforcement of age limits for video games would clearly be possible without being against the constitution, and already work reasonably well in other countries.

I wouldn't necessarily assume that the outcome of the study will be "video games cause shootings." There have been past studies which quite conclusively state the opposite, such as this one. While I stand with you in thinking it's a cop out to blame video games, I'm really not against the use of further studies to provide more data on the subject -- more information is good.

As for why the CDC is involved, I would imagine the reasoning goes something like this: Violent behavior can be caused by mental illness (another favorite scapegoat of the gun lobby right now), and mental illness is a disease. It may manifest itself by a correlation with interest in violent games. Ultimately this may turn out to be incorrect, but that may indicate the way the study is going to be conducted.
CDC is an odd choice, but better than making a whole new set of bureaucracy for this one issue.

I've always been of the opinion that people inclined to commit violent acts will also seek to play more violent video games.

The whole focus on assault rifles is stupid. More people are killed each year with hammers than assault rifles. Violence caused by that class of firearm is wholly disproportionate to ownership of that class. If we were serious about preventing violence, we'd ban handguns and leave rifles un-banned.

The mental illness focus of these background checks and scapegoating bothers me. The decision to seek therapy is difficult enough in complete anonymity, it's much harder knowing you're facing being put on a list that would restrict what you can buy, how you can travel, which jobs you can take. People with mental health issues deserve our sympathies, not our suspicions.
> More people are killed each year with hammers than assault rifles.

More people OWN hammers than assault rifles, so in the absence of more context that is a pretty vacuous factoid. It's like the absolutely true yet useless statement that most car accidents occur close to home. The takeaway from that fact is that most people are usually driving close to their homes, not that driving long distances is safer.

The appropriate question would be whether the owner of an assault weapon is on average more likely to commit murder with it than the owner of a hammer, and how much more.
Who better than the CDC? The CDC has people experienced in analyzing large populations behavior regarding public health issues like addiction or whatever. If any government agency can do it, it's the CDC.

Michael, the pendulum on mental illness might be swinging back. Back in the day we used to lock up lots of mentally ill people and we ended up with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Then we started making it really hard to commit people and underfund mental health and turns out that sometimes that makes people watch helplessly as really disturbed people go off the edge since they haven't DONE anything yet. I don't know where the solution to that problem is.

The assault weapons ban is mostly useless, as they are rarely used in crimes of this nature, and the determination of what is an assault weapon depends more on the gun looking assaulty than anything else.

They picked the CDC because that's what the CDC does: despite it's name, it is the government agency in charge of commissioning behavioral and sociological studies in addition to simple biological ones.

"... it is valid to ask what exactly somebody would need an assault weapon or armor-piercing bullets for."
Depending on definition, you might 'need' an 'assault weapon' because that definition includes the vast majority of firearms (such as now in New York, where the Ruger 10/22, the first training rifle I purchased, is an 'assault weapon'). In other cases, 'assault weapon' includes safety features that sound scary, such as the barrel shroud which is actually meant to prevent burning your hand on a muzzle. And in yet others, because we don't ban things just because people don't 'need' them, especially when they're not often used in crimes.

For 'armor-piercing ammunition', the federal sale and import ban also covers the vast majority of environmentally-friendly inexpensive ammunition, one major advantage of steel-core ammo. Instead, folk who don't like lead dust instead have had to deal with very expensive and ballistically inferior full-copper. In some states, the term's just short-hand for banning entire cartridge types, including fairly popular and mainstream ones. And, again, we don't ban things because they're scary, but for actual reasons, and armor-piercing ammunition bans pretty clearly fall into the latter category especially since normal police and even military body armor isn't built to stop normal ammunition from almost any rifle or most common pistol rounds.

Stricter enforcement of age limits for video games would clearly be possible without being against the constitution...
Er, no. Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association makes it very clear that any serious attempt to create or enforce age limits for violent video games (as with any other type of media that does not meet the bar for actual obscenity) is unconstitutional.
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It consistently annoys me that the awarene ofss of and enforcement of video game age restrictions is so shoddy. Look at the ridiculous select your age wheel that Steam regularly uses. I bet the average age of Steam users is over 100 because it is actually easier to just click 1900 than to scroll down to your real age. Even when retailers do the right thing you have a wall of parental ignorance. Many many parents just don't seem to understand that an 18 rated video game is just a unsuitable for children as an 18 rated movie. Complacency about this issue could prove a major achilles heel for the games industry.
The CDC has a decent reputation across the board, which is probably why it was chosen for the study. Most other outlets --medical research universities, etc.-- would be accused of "political bias" by the pro-gun/conservative crowd who don't like the answers they find.

The weird thing to me is not that they have been asked to do this work, but that they had previously been banned from doing any research into guns that might have resulted in pro-gun control results.

I mean really, you don't take a high quality research establishment (which the CDC is) and tell them what results they are allowed to get.
The CDC has a decent reputation across the board...

The CDC previously commissioned several rather suspiciously poorly-designed 'injury prevention' studies in the late-1980s and early-1990s, most infamously the Kellermann studies. Those claimed to show that "People should be strongly discouraged from keeping guns in their homes", and instead showed that it was indeed possible to graduate from medical school without the ability to do basic math or distinguish correlation and causation. Gun owners have been rather skeptical of the group, and with just cause; it's very prone to following political orders, especially given an already anti-gun workbase.

((Indeed, the executive order is very, very careful to say it's not about gun control, but only about studying gun violence, although that's likely to be a bit of a fig leaf.))
Wow. I have the sudden desire to join the CDC if they get paid to just play games and watch movies! Too bad I'm in the wrong country! :D
More people are killed each year with hammers than assault rifles.

Just to clarify, although this particular comment is not as egregious as some of the stuff like this has been floating around the internet as of late, it is still most likely not true, though some of the data isn't broken down enough to tell, for instance, how many of "firearm" or "other gun besides handgun" deaths were by "assault rifle", a nebulous enough concept.


The statistics on homicides in the US in 2011 as per the FBI are:

Firearms: 67.8%
Knives or other cutting instruments: 13.4%
Personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc): 5.7%
Blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc): 3.9%

About 70-80% of firearm homicides are handgun related, but it's not broken down further, nor is the "blunt objects" category.
The numbers I had seen for firearm deaths was around 300 Rifle deaths and 6000 handgun deaths. Rifle covers Assault Rifles, but assault rifles are a pretty small subset of Rifle. It would not surprise me at all if hammers killed more people that ARs.

Ultimately though banning tools does not prevent people from still committing crimes, even on the scale that we've seen recently. Mental illness and poverty are far more important causes of crime. Fixing those may not be possible but we can certainly improve on how we handle them as a society. Currently though there is such a huge stigma attached to receiving any kind of professional mental help that I don't see the new executive orders really changing much.
Hunting and home protection are not what the second amendment is about. It's about american citizens being able to protect themselves from our own government and invading forces. In this light assault rifles should be the most protected and we should be banning handguns :)
Yeah. I personally don't have a stake in it, living in Australia, but for the sake of reducing death tolls and general sanity overall, I'd prefer that folks not look too closely at the 'original intent' or spirit of the constitution when it comes to the 2nd amendment.

Mostly because the intent, or spirit, is that citizens be adequately armed to overthrow an oppressive government. Restricting access to powerful weapons hobbles that.

"We are protecting your right to overthrow us. But only if you use half-broken glass bottles or sling-shots."
The right to bear arms in America has two reasons behind it:

The first reason is to maintain a well regulated militia "being necessary to the security of a free state", so basically there would be people with guns around to protect the state (ie. New York, Virginia, California).

The second reason is to overthrow a government which has become corrupt and tyrannical, which the founding fathers viewed as part of the responsibility of the people.

Our founding fathers actually wrote at length about the reasoning, you just have to go outside the Constitution and do a little digging to find it.
Of course, the irony is that it's impossible to use arms to overthrow a tyrannical government.

It's possible to use arms to defend a country against a foreign invader, although you're better off using a regular army if you have one instead of relying on an ad-hoc militia.

It's also possible to use arms to overthrow a weak, ineffective government that can't put up an adequate defense. Usually this starts when soldiers desert the regular army because they haven't been paid lately.

But if you're living under a genuine tyranny, then you as an individual can't overthrow need to be part of a larger revolutionary group. But a genuine tyranny is just going to say, "Some of your neighbors are informers. You don't know which ones. If you plot against the government, we'll come after your family." Without a secure base of operations, you can't set up meaningful resistance.

The really ironic thing is that here in the US, the people who talk about violently overthrowing the government tend to be Right-Wing Authoritarians who want the government to be more tyrannical. (It's a little more complicated than that. They don't want to be oppressed themselves, but they're filled with resentment because the government isn't keeping "Those People" in their place.)
Of course, the irony is that it's impossible to use arms to overthrow a tyrannical government.

Athens, Tennessee, 1946 would beg to differ.
I hadn't heard of the Athens incident but I've just read the Wikipedia entry...

It looks like this falls into the second category, a rebellion against a weak government that can't field an army. The resistance was led by retired soldiers who were able to seize weapons from the National Guard Armory. The local government had a disjointed force of police deputies, many of whom were outsiders brought in from neighboring counties. The Federal Government declined to get involved.

If the Federal Government had supported the Athens government, the situation most likely would have ended differently. I'll cite the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791-94 as an example of what could have happened.
Good luck fighting a tyrannical government that is armed with drones and tanks using a Bushmaster!
CDC may find an interesting study subject in The Secret World. There is a zombie apocalypse on Solomon Island and even some infected CDC operatives to kill in Blue Mountain...
Now that we have a small group of gun enthusiasts reading this thread, perhaps someone can answer what, exactly, is so great with having guns around the house?

More specifically:

1.Is there an argument against the apparent correlation between the sensationally high gun "density" in the US and the fact that the US also has the first world's highest firearms-related homicide rate (the Guardian has kindly tabulated the UN data on this, for ease of reference)?

2. If the correlation is accepted, why would you be against gun control?
Oscar, I don't think your correlation is going to influence the gun enthusiasts. The US was founded out of an armed rebellion, and there aren't many nations with the same kind of history. The constitutional right to bear arms is an historic artifact based on the idea that if the United States were born in an armed rebellion against a tyrannical government, such an armed rebellion must have been the right thing to do. Thus armed rebellion against a tyrannical government is constitutionally protected.

Of course if somebody actually started an armed rebellion against a current or future US government, he'd quickly realize that this is just a theoretical concept. Weapons technology has come a long way since 1776, and a rebellion armed with assault rifles wouldn't get far against the US Army armed with everything up to nuclear missiles. And any existing government would always argue that whatever they do, they aren't tyrannical, and thus any armed rebellion is always illegal, unless it just won the war.

There is a widespread naivety in the USA about how government is generally unnecessary, and how people would be able to survive without one, which isn't shared by the rest of the world.

Thanks. Yes, it wasn't my intention to persuade anyone, really. I really am curious as to the reasoning behind it all.

Every country is unique, of course, but I don't quite agree that the US is as alone in being born out of revolution as you portray it. Also, in my experience, only relatively few gun enthusiasts hark back to revolutionary themes to support the right to bear arms. Instead, it seems to me that the majority take this as a much more contemporary issue.

Finally, and in fairness to the good citizens of the United States, I think you need to experience the full weight of US bureaucracy in order to understand the reason why so many people want less of it.
I think you need to experience the full weight of US bureaucracy in order to understand the reason why so many people want less of it.

Huh? The average number of bureaucrats per citizen in Europe is higher than in the USA. Depending on how you measure it, government is up to twice the size in countries like Sweden than in the USA. Belgium, where I live, has one of the highest numbers of elected officials per capita in the world.

The "weight of bureaucracy" is purely a matter of perception. Especially on the federal level the USA has remarkably few bureaucrats per capita compared to other countries with a federal system.
Like I said, it has to be experienced in order to be understood. Having both lived in and worked with trade to the US, my experience is that the bureaucratic hurdles are significantly higher there than in most other places.

To paraphrase the saying: it's not how many they are, it's how they do it.
(oh, and sorry for veering off topic!)
The way constitutionally protected rights work is that courts place a very high bar on their limitation by the government. In the case of video games, it's difficult to see how this bar could be met, since studies are going to be suggestive, not definitive. It would be very difficult, for example, for them to show correlations are actually causations.
I don't understand what the big deal is. If there's any sort of causation, an increase in sales of violent games would have a direct parallel to an increase in the amount of violent crime.

Link to forbes

Game sales had risen year over year, while violent crime has actually gone down. If there's any direct causation involved, it isn't in any statistically significant way.

That said... regarding the correlation of guns and violence from the UN data about the US, you need to take the size of the population into account. By nature of having an estimated population of 270 million people, on an absolute scale the USA would clearly have more deaths than other nations simply because of the absolute population difference.

You should try sorting by # of homicides per 100,000 people so that you get a rough percentage that takes the population of each nation into account. I counted 27 other nations with higher gun killings per 100,000 people than the USA, yet each of them has a mere fraction of the USA's gun ownership density (the highest being Panama's 21.7 guns/100 people and 16.18 gun homicides per 100k people, compared to the USA's 88.8 per 100 people and 2.97 gun homicides per 100k people).

Basically, the Americans have ~4x as many guns as Panamanians do, yet the average Panamanian kills ~7x as many people with his or her guns as the average American.
Apologies, a slight mistake in the math. The average American owns 4x as many guns as the average Panamanian, but the average Panamanian kills 5x as many people as the average American.
J Chen,

Yes, almost all of the poor countries along the main drug trafficking lanes have very depressing murder statistics. Not only is illegitimate gun ownership exceedingly hard to estimate in those countries, it also strikes me as seriously awkward to compare the United States with Guatemala on any level.

That's why I said "first world" country.
If the correlation is accepted, why would you be against gun control?

There's a long way from correlation to causation, especially when the correlation is on such a broad scale. Many of the lowest-crime states in the United States are simultaneously the ones with higher rates of legal gun ownership, suggesting that tightening the breadth of comparison would alter the numbers.

Violent crime, especially in the United States, correlates with a very large number of attributes. It's not clear that gun possession (and especially legal gun possession) is a causative factor. As noted, many parts of the United States with high rates of homicide also have strict regulations on gun ownership, such as Chicago. It's very hard to think of a method for inanimate objects to drive people to murder, but these areas also show high rates of non-firearms homicide, which means that unless GLOCKS radiate murder-inducing radiation but only when inside a major city, there's at least something else involved.

Most firearms-related murderers also feature very specific fact patterns. Over half of all murderers had a previous felony conviction (which means they could not legally purchase or own a gun), most of which did not involve firearms. It's not hard to think of things like drugs, or environments with massive unemployment and poverty, or social issues present here and not in Europe, as being somewhat more indicative.

Moreover, it's not terribly clear that more 'gun control' will result in reduced gun ownership, especially reduced unlawful gun ownership. Most proposed laws in the United States try to avoid nasty words like 'confiscation', and instead focus on limiting features that aren't often used in crimes. And even if we were suddenly to ban firearms at a national scale tomorrow -- not only a Second Amendment issue, but also incompatible with modern interpretations of the federal government's powers -- compliance rates aren't likely to be high and we have hundreds of millions of firearms already out in the wild. And they're fairly simple mechanical devices, ones that people can and do already build themselves.

((There are also some underlying issues with how the numbers are tabulated, as well: the US regulatory schema is very good at counting legally manufactured guns, while most other countries count registered ownership. The firearms black market in these countries is often several times the size of the legal market, and seldom counted. Some sources also conflate suicides with homicides, and/or completely ignore non-gun homicides as the Guardian link does -- I don't particularly find being beaten to death with a rock much better than being shot.))

Tobold Stoutfoot
The average number of bureaucrats per citizen in Europe is higher than in the USA.

The number of bureaucrats and the amount of harm an individual bureaucrat can do are independent variables. The Department of Motor Vehicles is, itself, not a major manpower force, yet for those unlucky or busy enough to be stuck with a subpar DMV experience it's incredibly frustrating. There's only a couple people at the local post office, all of which are perfectly nice little old ladies and all of which are required to follow rules that are at complete odds with delivering mail to the correct address. If you try to run a company, especially a company with more than twenty employees, it's not the number of feet on your back that's a problem: it's the one guy with a mountain of paperwork. And if you're self-employed, you're either going to spend a week filing taxes or you're going to go insane.

That's not unique to the United States -- the EU ROHS stuff is several different kinds of special -- but the particular combination of effects is especially distasteful.

Thanks for taking the time to reply. It wasn't my intention to start an argument over it, as that is akin to trying to convince another whose God is better. I am grateful for your elucidation, though!
Many of the lowest-crime states in the United States are simultaneously the ones with higher rates of legal gun ownership

This is just plain misleading. Look at the statistics of gun ownership per capita by state, then cross reference that with firearm deaths per capita by state. The correlation is there and very distinct.
Look at the statistics of gun ownership per capita by state, then cross reference that with firearm deaths per capita by state. The correlation is there and very distinct.
Not so distinct or present to explain or cover Vermont, Wyoming, both Dakotas, Maine, Idaho, and Utah, seven of the ten states with the lowest per capita "gun homicide" rates (since we're insisting on that goofy metric), yet all having >40% of homes report gun possession in a national survey by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Contrast Texas, infamous gun central and hitting 36% gun ownership in that same survey, or Illinois and California, which have <22% gun ownership rates in that survey yet both come in the top ten for both violent crime and gun homicide.

(Sorry, I just couldn't resist).

Now we're actually going back to the lock/piracy discussion of the other day. I don't think anyone denies that criminals cause homicides. My own conclusion (which has always struck me as obvious, which is a problem for objectivity) is that more guns ind the hands of criminals cause more gun-related homicides – and, yes, more homicides overall – than what would have been the case with fewer guns in the hands of those same criminals. Fewer guns in Idaho = fewer gun-related homicides in Idaho. As in Texas. And Belgium, for that matter.

And that is why I asked. Why would anyone not want fewer gun-related homicides? You explained why you think the premise is wrong, which is of course perfectly fine.
It's not a question of "fewer gun-related homicides or more gun-related homicides". It's a question of "fewer freedoms and fewer gun-related homicides, or more freedoms and more gun-related homicides".

It's a question of trading freedom for security. The second amendment guarantees the American the right to keep and bear arms. If you restrict that right, you take away from that person's freedom in the name of security. You can rationalize it as "they don't need those freedoms/guns/whatever", but I don't think that's a decision someone should make for other people.

The last time the federal government decided to trade freedom for security, we got the TSA. I'd rather keep that sort of regulation to a minimum.
There's always various causes when a gun is used to kill another human. It is easy to blame one element such as video games, guns, or whatever but every shooter has a rich history which made them what they are and made them do what they did. The situation gets immensely complex (too complex for the human mind) if you start doing it, but it is required because else you resort to simple dogma like "guns are bad" or "video games incite murder".

It is the same with these examples about drugs and gang wars. They're related to the whole debate of legislation of drugs. Back when hash and weed got decriminalized in The Netherlands guess who lost out? 1) the government, due to tax evasion 2) the criminals, they couldn't compete with citizens.
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