Despite the national media's fascination with the Washington Navy Yard shooter's violent video gaming habits, lawmakers on Capitol Hill focused on the need to shore up rules on guns in the United States. Democratic lawmakers and anti-gun groups focused their efforts on the push for a vote on background checks legislation, according to Polticio. During that debate there's was very little talk about violent video games.
There were no calls this time around to curb or research video games – in fact some lawmakers weren't afraid to defend the industry:
"I think you are going to have crazy people no matter what. The same argument was made when movies were invented, same with comic books, same argument that comic books are going to cause violence," Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) told POLITICO. "I think people like to assign blame for something. Otherwise, it’s hard to make it fit in their mind of why someone would do this. Sometimes I think bad things just happen."
When asked directly about the link between violent video games and real-world violence, other lawmakers chose instead to discuss mental health issues, background checks and the process of getting a security clearance.
"The culprit is people aren’t getting either the help they need and then when they try to get help, there is not a good reporting requirement," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told Politico. She also said she supported background checks legislation and that security at schools should be addressed.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who sponsored a bill calling for a study on violent video games earlier this year, also offered a measured response on the topic.
"We need to give the FBI time to complete their profile of the shooter and the investigation into the horrific event that occurred yesterday at the Navy Yard," Rockefeller said. "We’ve heard some news accounts that the shooter spent time playing violent video games, but it is simply too early to know whether this motivated this week’s senseless act of violence."
The narrative about violent media was drummed up earlier this year by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, following the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting in December of last year. This led to lawmakers like Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) entertaining the idea that the industry might need to be regulated. Vice President Joe Biden also investigated whether violent media culture should be addressed and the nation’s gun laws strengthened.
Video game companies and the Entertainment Software Association have also spent millions of dollars to influence lawmakers on Capitol Hill this year, and have put the presence of ESA CEO Mike Gallagher and Democratic lobbyist Erik Huey in D.C.
"Over time, the more that lawmakers understand the depth and the breadth of this industry, the less they rush to judgment on blaming an industry like ours for unrelated shootings," Huey said. "When you look at morale panics over time from comic books, to Elvis’s hips, to Marilyn Manson, to Ozzy Osbourne, I think when they are viewed through the lens of history, people want to avoid making those kinds of mistakes in current time."
The ESA has doubled its lobbying spending over the past six years and hired lobbying firms like Monument Policy Group, The Smith-Free Group and Franklin Square Group on retainer. After the Newtown shootings, ESA brought on prominent Democratic lobbying firm Elmendorf Ryan and Polaris Government Relations to deal with the narrative created by the NRA. Huey said that the ESA doesn’t want this to be a guns versus gaming industry debate either.
"Any effort to turn this into a battle of First Amendment versus Second Amendment is not of interest to us," he said. "The Bill of Rights is not a cafeteria plan. You can’t plan which rights you want the government to enforce and which ones they don’t."
Huey also dismissed the notion that the industry is shying away from its mature-rated content like Grand Theft Auto.
"This is the ‘Breaking Bad’ of video games. It’s the ‘Sopranos’ of video games, and I don’t know anybody is saying ‘Breaking Bad’ is causing more people to become meth dealers in the country," Huey said. "Grand Theft Auto is a franchise, a storied revered franchise that is rated ‘M’ for adults that has been around for a long time, and it’s sold around the world. This gun violence epidemic we have in this country is unique to America, so clearly there must be causal factors at play and it’s not just the video games."