At the Capitol on Thursday gun-control efforts remained stalled, but a bipartisan group of senators still announced a new proposal to keep firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous people. Meanwhile, down the street at the White House, President Donald Trump was discussing video game violence, which had critics wondering what happened to his calls just last week for a “comprehensive” gun-control package.
“It’s a diversion. It’s so you don’t have to talk about the obvious: What to do with these semi-automatic weapons, with bump-stocks, and high-capacity magazines, and the sale of AR-15s to kids, background checks – the obvious things that would make a profound difference,” Sen. Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, tells Glixel. “He’s talking about cultural things. Republicans are usually more comfortable in the cultural world than in the world of commerce.”
Trump's meeting on Thursday with members and naysayers of the video game industry was meant to discuss violent video games and any connection they may have with desensitizing children or making them more aggressive. The meeting, which the White House describes as one of many with the game industry and other stakeholders in a national discussion surrounding school shootings, was closed to the press.
The meeting rekindled a debate about gun violence and video games that many, both inside the video game industry and those who research the topic, thought was long settled.
Those who were listed as invited to the afternoon meeting included a number of outspoken critics of media violence and violent video games as well as the heads of the ESA and ESRB and two video game executives. Members of Congress invited were Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl), Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and Representative Martha Roby (R-Al). Glixel reached out to all of those invited for comment about what happened in the meeting, but on one has responded as of press time.
While the game industry has long operated a voluntary ratings system through the Entertainment Software Rating Board and the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that video games are protected by the First Amendment in 2011, video games are still being pulled into the conversation surrounding the gun debate sparked by last month's Florida school shooting.
Lawmakers in both parties are careful not to dismiss the debate over what if anything can be done to stem America’s violent culture. They say video games shouldn’t be the focus right now, though, especially after the teenage survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida have changed the debate nationally. They also don’t know if there are any quick legislative fixes Congress can do even if there are any correlation found between violent video games and violent action.
“I compliment the president for looking at the cultural aspects of this, but the First Amendment exists,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters at the Capitol Thursday. “I don’t know how far you can go in banning a video. I don’t know how far you can go in banning a movie. What books you should read that incite violence?”
Graham says that’s why he supports ending the current prohibition that bans the Center for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence, and he’s also crafting a bill that he hopes will compel social media sites to report users who are posting violent threats.
But on Thursday Graham went a step further and tried to keep the focus on firearms themselves by teaming up with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to introduce legislation that would allow judges to issue temporary restraining orders to keep guns out of the hands of people deemed dangerous. They plan to discuss it at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing slated for next week on the Parkland shooting and gun violence in general. But so far any legislative efforts focused on guns are stalled, which Graham says Trump can change.
“The White House, if they came out with a proposal, I think that would jumpstart the process,” Graham says. But after Trump did a 180 on the issue last week after a private meeting with the NRA, Democrats say they’ve lost trust in Trump on the issue.
“I do think the president is trying to change the subject and shift focus,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) tells Glixel. “That’s not to say that cultural factors are irrelevant, but I think Congress has a job to do and we ought to be doing it.”
“It’s important that we take action legislatively to confront the intersection of mental health challenges, school safety challenges and preventing people who shouldn’t have access to weapons from getting weapons,” Coons adds.