By Fareed Zakaria
Vice President Joe Biden was meeting video game representatives yesterday as the Obama administration and the U.S. public grapples with the question of gun crime – and why it is so much more prevalent in America than other rich countries.
The oft-debated premise behind such talks is clear. Young males weaned on a diet of violent and graphic images, it is argued, are more likely to engage in deadly violence themselves.
But the actual data suggests something quite different.
Last month, The Washington Post compared spending on video games and gun-related homicide rates in 10 countries.
“The search for meaning is a natural response to any tragedy, and the latest U.S. mass shooting is eliciting questions about, among other things, the potential role of violent video games. After all, with kids and increasingly teenagers spending so much time hammering away at simulated shooters, is it any wonder when they pick up actual guns?” wrote the Washington Post’s Max Fisher. “Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod lamented on Twitter, ‘In NFL post-game: an ad for shoot ‘em up video game. All for curbing weapons of war. But shouldn’t we also quit marketing murder as a game?’”
Presumably, then, if violent video games somehow translated into more deadly gun-related behavior you would expect the United States – which has far and away the highest levels of gun-related murders per capita – to be the biggest spender on such games. But this is not the case. In fact, according to the Post’s figures, U.S. spending per capita is ahead of only China. The Netherlands and South Korea spend more than twice as much per capita on video games, yet gun murder rates in these two countries are far, far lower than those in the United States. Japan, which has some of the most graphically violent games and animation in the world, has violent crime rates that are a fraction of those in the United States.
Yes, the relationship between popular culture and violence is complicated. And yes, we can quibble with the way different countries report crimes. But neither of these facts gets anywhere near explaining the differences between gun murder rates in the U.S. and those in its peers.
As with almost everything relating to this conversation on gun violence, it is extremely helpful to start with facts.