Blaming games after Sandy Hook shooting was example of "moral panic" argues professor

Stetson psychology professor Chris Ferguson says shooter's gaming habits were largely overblown.

After the horrific massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, many politicians and pundits blamed video games for the atrocity. But the widespread condemnation of video games is really just an example of "moral panic," as the shooter's gaming habits were largely overblown, Stetson University psychology professor Chris Ferguson argues in a new opinion piece at The Hartford Courant.

Image credit: Don Emmert for Getty

Ferguson reminds readers that following the schoolhouse shooting, rumors spread that the 20-year-old shooter was obsessed with violent video games, despite little evidence to prove that he had any such proclivity for these games. One report even pegged the shooter as a "deranged gamer" seeking to win "points" by killing as many as possible on that day in 2012.

A summary of the official police investigation of the Sandy Hook shooting was released in November, and though it showed that the shooter played many games, including Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, his biggest interest was in non-violent titles like Dance Dance Revolution. Ferguson said the shooter's gaming habits were "unremarkable" for a 20-year-old.

Just last month, Connecticut state police released thousands of pages of documents pertaining to its investigation. Ferguson said he found little in these documents to challenge the initial report, including testimony from one officer who instructed families not too give too much credence to the theories surrounding the shooter's gaming habits.

Overall, Ferguson writes that nowhere in the official investigation report are video games linked to the shooting, nor is it mentioned that the shooter was "obsessed" or "enthralled" with video games. The documents, Ferguson writes, also never mention that the shooter used games as a training system for the shooting.

Also in his editorial, Ferguson calls out the various political initiatives undertaken following the shooting, including Southington Conn.'s failed attempt to collect and destroy video games, as well as the various bills before Congress that aim to study violent video games.

"The condemnation of violent video games following the Newtown shooting is a classic example of a moral panic," Ferguson said. "Politicians put pressure on the social science community to produce certain types of research results, based on an erroneous assumption. The news media churned out headlines that followed suit. Most of the debate over video games went forward without waiting to see how much the shooter had in fact played them."

"Newtown was an opportunity for moral crusaders to harrumph over violent video games as they did over rock music in the 1980s and comic books in the 1950s," he added.

By focusing squarely and "uselessly" on violent video games, we become distracted from the real issues, like addressing mental illness, Ferguson said.

"During the past 20 years in which video games have soared in popularity, youth violence has dropped by almost 90 percent," he said. "We would do well to remember this, concentrate on more pressing matters such as poverty, and forgo discussion of cultural issues, if we are really serious about crime."

Written By

Discussion

90 comments
isshiah
isshiah

This guy knows what's up. 

sunbeam4
sunbeam4

mainly a bunch of cowards that didn't want to take responsibility for what happened. instead of dealing with the issues that are plaguing NA societies.

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

Hadn't thought of it this way before, but I guess it sort of makes sense.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

"During the past 20 years in which video games have soared in popularity, youth violence has dropped by almost 90 percent,"

OMG it is so nice to hear someone other than myself say this exact sentence!!!!

I throw this right in the face of everyone who dares to stupidly claim that violent games train people to kill.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

I would say that the crux of the issue is not video games, guns and mental illness - it's the American dream not living up to hype.

---Cipher---
---Cipher---

Dance Dance Revolution kills!


As I think most gamers realize, the reports that "games killed them" were just an attempt to rationalize a completely irrational tragedy. Unfortunatly though, when it comes to this type of thing, politicians are too eager to create a "new" enemy and champion a new non-cause into winning the next election, or for news sites to create controversy so they can get more ad revenue. Create an enemy in everyone's home and people will pay attention to you even if that enemy doesn't really exist.

rufusamatrix
rufusamatrix

Finally someone who thinks before he speaks.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

So gamers were right all along.  Thanks.  We know.

james_russell
james_russell

Anyone trying to say it's hypocritical to defend violent games for being violent and yet criticize and even mark down game scores for being sexist is just a bigoted straight white male who needs to check his privilege.

jharring
jharring

If they really want to crack down on video games, they should be cracking down on the F2P games that are designed to suck people dry with microtransactions, like Candy Crush Saga.

Born_Lucky
Born_Lucky

"Gun laws solve gun violence."

You would have to be an idiot to believe that.

The cities with the strictest gun laws are the same cities with the most violent crime.

Also - You can buy guns from illegals in broad daylight in L.A. and Oakland, that they brought in from Mexico by the vanload. THOUSANDS  of guns a month come across that border -  How would gun laws stop that. ???

nl_skipper
nl_skipper

So many sad individuals out there crusading against harmless things just because they have no interest in them... poor poor sad people :(

meatz666
meatz666

Call of Duty is a false flag game.

Buck_Swaggler
Buck_Swaggler

If only Common Sense was as popular as his brother Non Sense

DAOWAce
DAOWAce

Someone with intelligence and who's respected by (and teaches!) people has made it clear that (most) US politicians need to stay out of non-political affairs.

Hell, I'd prefer they stay out of the government entirely.  That'd bring this country back up from the hell it's in now.

northArrow
northArrow

I find it funny that people are always looking for a scape goat - it has to be the fault of something. How about we start placing blame on the people who actually commit the crimes?

angryguy77
angryguy77

props to you guys who commented here on the real reason for this tragedy: mental illness. It wasn't the fault of the gaming industry or the right to own a gun, rather it was just this guy being nuts.


eyeball2452
eyeball2452

Gun laws solve gun violence.  People who grandstand by linking games to gun violence are intentionally deflecting and muddying the discussion so that nothing gets solved.  Look at the NRA's response.  They put out a gun game to change the discussion.


Maybe we should talk about how guns and gun violence lead our society to create games based around guns and guns violence instead?

DVONvX
DVONvX

Humans have this incessant need to try and explain what they don't understand. This kid was crazy, and what he did he did without any logic or reason. There will never be an explanation other than some people's brains are incorrectly wired causing them to do terrible things.  

Triton
Triton

Someone with a degree to finally figure out what we all already know.

skippiman
skippiman

blaming video games is a s pointless as blaming the fact that he drank water for the shooting

Richardthe3rd
Richardthe3rd

It's great to read an informed perspective on this matter. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that not only are reasonable people are out there, but they probably outnumber the knee-jerk fanatics who gnash their teeth.

nyran125tk
nyran125tk

"Dance Dance Revolution"


Never let your children play this, they might go out and kill people.

MusclesJAM
MusclesJAM

I think I like this Ferguson fellow.

nyran125tk
nyran125tk

why not blame Walking dead? or a quentin tarintino movies or a gangster movie to or hannibal or Dexter or The Wire or Lord Of the rings, or Superman or Batman or the Telly Tubbies? I bet the Telly Tubbies screwed up an entire generation of babies or violent cartoons or coca cola or pharmacy drugs you give to kids.


Im not a fan of carrying guns around, but i have to say, if your country is full of them, everyone needs one. Because the ones that dont have them are screwed.

Shantmaster_K
Shantmaster_K

This pathetic loser also enjoyed McDonalds... I blame McDonalds. 

kingfish1984
kingfish1984

Games didn't cause it, but they sure showed how it's done.  It's all in the airport level of Modern Warfare 2.  You take your drugged up patsy, let him actually do some of the shooting (this part is optional in the days of "we'll make anything up" TV news), then take him out and split the scene.  Early reports had at least one live suspect in camo caught on the run, and another van that sped away which they never caught.  Both were wiped from the headlines after the first day.

vadagar1
vadagar1

criminalize bulling and create job markets


problem solved


NEXT

waterbug007
waterbug007

When someone bludgeons a room full of children to death with an Xbox One, then I think we can safely hold video games responsible for violent rampages.  Until then, clearly, we have to blame Foursquare.  

girlshavefuntoo
girlshavefuntoo

Games don't teach you how to hold a gun, withstand recoil and reload. Neither does killing pixels with absolutely no emotions teach me how it feels to kill children. It all come down to mental illness and failure to treat it.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@Born_LuckyBecause cities do not exist in a bubble.  The COUNTRIES with stricter gun laws have fewer gun violence.


The US as a whole has the most guns, and thus the most gun violence.  You can't just pick a small subsection.

xeoneex66
xeoneex66

@Born_Lucky In Europe, most countries have low to 0 crime due to EVERYONE carries a gun.  I think it was Sweden that was the best as far as lack of crime.  I could be wrong.

nl_skipper
nl_skipper

@Born_Lucky   I'm inclined to agree,  but it shows that there's something a little screwed up in the USA, besides the fact everyone loves weapons, because there are far more gun deaths in the country than just about any other in the world, including those with equally high numbers of weapons.  The whole gun culture in the USA is a problem, not so much the number of weapons, but how people feel about them, and when their appropriate to use.. it seems off.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@northArrowIt's society's fault for not killing off this fool for being psychotic in the first place.

All life is NOT precious.

Psychotics, and people of a certain low level of intelligence simply do not represent life worth saving or enabling.
We should kill them off, the world would be a better place.

Those kids would not have died.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@eyeball2452Gun laws breed even more brutal gun violence.

You walk into a town where everyone carries a gun and tell me how many shootings like this they have had.

StickyJr1
StickyJr1

@eyeball2452  Guns violence isn't the only type of violence in games. Ryse: Son of Rome has no guns and nothing that even uses gunpowder. MMA and boxing games are purely human on human violence without a single weapon.


Games are supposed to be about experiences, wether they be based on reality or fiction, likely to happen or destined never to occur. Humans are a violent species, as our history around the globe demonstrates. Violent experiences are part of the whole human experience.


The correct answer isn't to try to create laws that ignore the fact that potentially deadly weapons such as guns exist, but to continue to pursue the enlightenment of the humans that weld such weapons. Until such a time as ALL humans agree that using weapons against each other is never a solution, taking them away from one party only empowers all parties without similar restrictions.


Why do you think the world is so afraid of North Korea and the UN is so active in trying to stop Iran's nuclear program? The rest of the 'civilized' world has agreed to restricting their nuclear arsenals and now find the countries not involved with those agreements to be significant threats to their own safety.

emperiox
emperiox

@xeoneex66@Born_Lucky In the UK, most people want handguns unbanned...that was another fact. Their politicians just don't care though, kinda like ours. If they wanted to protect people, our politicians would end gun free zones.

emperiox
emperiox

@nl_skipper@Born_Lucky Furthermore NL, why is gun violence such a goddam problem to you. Why not ALL violence? How about we work to stop ALL violence instead of just the kind that guns are used on?

emperiox
emperiox

@nl_skipper@Born_Lucky Don't kid yourself...you don't care about saving lives. More kids die in swimming pools than are killed by guns. We don't have a gun violence epidemic here.

Born_Lucky
Born_Lucky

@nl_skipper@Born_LuckyNot true. 


In Rwanda - 300,000 people were killed in 3 months . . . . with machetes - guns were completely banned in Rwanda.

nl_skipper
nl_skipper

@StickyJr1   To be fair a lot of the countries who decide to restrict nuclear arsenals, already have massively insane stock piles of the weapons, they just don't wan't other people to have the same...


Good points overall though!  Trying too hard to pry weapons out of peoples responsible (key word!) hands only helps to fuel a pro-gun movement, education and proper weapon discipline seem more appropriate.



Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@emperiox 

Cite the source for your claim of "most people want handguns unbanned" please.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

@emperiox@nl_skipper@Born_LuckyIf it's not a gun, it's a knife, if not a knife, then a big rock, if not a big rock, then bare hands, if they don't have hands, they will use their teeth.

Violence and murder is in no way restricted to simply guns.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@emperiox 

It's easier to focus on one thing at a time - and it so happens that gun ownership is a convenient punching bag.

Besides, compared to other weapons involved in act of violence, guns do not have the convenient excuse of dual-use.

nl_skipper
nl_skipper

@Born_Lucky  Yea okay compare rawandian life to life in the USA... good job... moron.  And that was a fuckin genocide, are you daft?  Murder rate of life in a developed country at peace, vs murder rate in third world country in the midst of civil war... no words to describe the lack of sense in such a comparison.