Teen Culture is Not Responsible for Gun Violence
There is simply no evidence to support the notion.
In the wake of tragedy, people are bound to look for definitive explanations. There are multiple reasons for this: some examples (especially by public figures) are partisan and self-serving, but most are good-natured efforts to prevent tragedies of a similar nature from happening in the future.
Since the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a troubling claim has started making the rounds on social media and in the national conversation about its cause. Certain people — mostly Gen Xers and baby boomers — believe that the real culprit behind mass shootings is the culture of America’s youth. The list of potential problems is endless: kids have been desensitized by violent video games, they watch too much reality TV, and they spend too much time interacting with technology to learn proper social skills. Ad nauseam.
The idea being pitched to susceptible minds is that our generation has lost a certain type of morality — one that emphasizes respect and the sanctity of human life — that past generations have always possessed. There is simply no evidence to support this notion.
Here is an important fact: while mass shootings are on the rise, school shootings are not. James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northwestern University, told NPR that “schools are safer today than they had been in previous decades.” There is no question that the rate of multiple-victim shootings in America is growing, but they don’t occur most often on school grounds. The assumption that most mass shooters are members of the millennial generation or younger is incorrect.
Leading political voices have been quick to place blame on violent video games for desensitizing America’s youth to the phenomenon of death. This is not an unreasonable conclusion to come to, but nevertheless it is without merit. A report by Psychology Today says: “The fact is that analyses of school shooting incidents from the US Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime do not support a link between violent games and real world attacks.”
In addition to graphic video games, reality television and poor parenting have also been named as factors that influence violent behavior. A Facebook post that went viral in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting made this assertion:
“Until we, as a country, are willing to get serious and talk about mental health issues, lack of available care for the mental health issues, lack of discipline in the home, horrendous lack of parental support when the schools are trying to control horrible behavior at school (oh no! Not MY KID. What did YOU do to cause my kid to react that way?), lack of moral values, and yes, I’ll say it-violent video games that take away all sensitivity to ANY compassion for others’ lives, as well as reality TV that makes it commonplace for people to constantly scream up in each others’ faces and not value any other person but themselves, we will have a gun problem in school.”
As established earlier, schools are not actually mass shooting hotbeds, and they aren’t anywhere close to becoming them. In fact, according to Professor Fox’s data, “shooting incidents involving students have been declining since the 1990s.” If shootings by American teenagers were in part driven by cultural factors like reality TV (which has only become more prevalent) and violent video games (which have become more realistic), one would expect to see the opposite of that statistic.
A person may have perfectly reasonable critiques about parenting or the influence of reality TV, but it’s a bridge too far to say that these things are causes of gun violence. The evidence says that they aren’t.