When the cry goes out to do something, politicians eye video games

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was addressing a crowd last week, trying his best to come up with the right pieties after yet another mass shooting, when someone shouted, “Do something!” The crowd took up that cry and the video of the chant went viral.

It was a chant borne of pure public exasperation with a political system that cannot make itself face up to gun violence.

It’s a widely felt exasperation. It’s the same public exasperation that last year, after the Parkland shootings, found 5,000 mostly young people in front of the Old Capitol Building in Tallahassee calling for stricter gun laws and chanting “vote them out.”

The Florida House’s reflexive first response was to pass a bill directing every Florida public school and school administration building to display the motto “In God we trust.” (At the expense of local school systems. Natch.)

[READ MORE: Residents in Ormond Beach urge Sen. Marco Rubio to step up gun reform]

When an outraged public demands that institutions do something and institutions don’t want to do anything, our leaders often run in odd directions.

Like going after video games.

Last week, in addressing the most recent shootings, President Donald Trump promised action on some kind of red-flag legislation, more use of the death penalty, and later talked about pairing all this with immigration legislation, a move that would be certain to prevent anything from happening. And for good measure, the president slammed “gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”

Walmart, meanwhile, ordered displays for violent video games removed from stores but will continue to sell guns.

Now there’s a lot to be said against video games. They are massive time-sucks. (But then, so is football.) They desensitize us to violence. (But then, so do movies.) They expose young people to tasteless graphic-design choices. (But then, don’t get me started down that road.)

But the whole guns-don’t-kill-people, Fortnite-kills-people argument? Nope. Never made sense to me. A lot of kids all around the world spend plenty of hours on these games yet somehow we’re the one country that takes the prize for nutzoid gunmen spraying bullets in public places with military-style weaponry.

The easy pivot from guns to video games reminds me of back when I was kid and politicians, pundits and pastors blamed all the troubles of the age on rock music and comic books. Same song, different accompaniment.

That drumbeat of silly sociology never changed my listening or reading habits. It did make me further discount the views of politicians, pundits and pastors.

The link between video games and violence has been disparaged by courts, refuted by psychologists and rebutted by studies. It’s just what people talk about when they really, really, really don’t want to talk about guns.

[READ MORE: Stetson professor fact-checks Trump on video games-violence link]

And if you need to hear this again, as News-Journal reporter Mark Harper noted in a recent piece, Stetson University psychology professor Chris Ferguson has been quoted all over the place this week about his findings – based on 15 years of research – that video games don’t breed murderers.

“In my own research, I find no evidence that video games or television contribute to youth violence, dating violence, bullying, or adult arrests,” Ferguson has written.

Shouting, “Do something!” at politicians isn’t enough. We need to shout, “Do something that’s not dumb!"