US Center for Disease Control to research effects of violent media

16 Jan 2013  by   Peter Parrish
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As part of President Obama’s legislative drive to curb gun violence in the US, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been given a brief to investigate causes and prevention. A portion of this research will investigate links between violent media (including videogames) and real world violence.

The CDC’s specific order reads: “Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.” It was one of 23 executive orders signed by President Obama today. Executive orders enable the President to enact certain policy changes without having to pass them through the House and Senate Chambers of the US Congress.

A more detailed summary of this executive order can be read below:

Conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence: The President is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and scientific agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. It is based on legal analysis that concludes such research is not prohibited by any appropriations language. The CDC will start immediately by assessing existing strategies for preventing gun violence and identifying the most pressing research questions, with the greatest potential public health impact. And the Administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for the CDC to conduct further research, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.

Better understand how and when firearms are used in violent death: To research gun violence prevention, we also need better data. When firearms are used in homicides or suicides, the National Violent Death Reporting System collects anonymous data, including the type of firearm used, whether the firearm was stored loaded or locked, and details on youth gun access. Congress should invest an additional $20 million to expand this system from the 18 states currently participating to all 50 states, helping Americans better understand how and when firearms are used in a violent death and informing future research and prevention strategies.

This is the first time for 17 years that the CDC will have free reign to investigate gun violence in the US. In 1996, under lobbying pressure from the National Rifle Association (NRA), the CDC’s funding was tied to a stipulation which stated that the public body could not perform any research that might “advocate or promote gun control.”

Independent research of this kind should be to the long-term benefit of the videogames industry. If (as seems extremely likely, given previous research), the CDC finds no causal links between videogames and real world violence, the study will provide a further bulwark against attacks and spurious partisan ‘studies’ from private, politically motivated groups.

Like the Supreme Court ruling of June 2011 that ruled videogames were protected speech in the US, CDC research could well end up promoting the cause of games and providing a wider understanding to the general public.

Update: The Entertainment Software Association has made the following statement on today’s events:

ESA appreciates President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s leadership and the thoughtful, comprehensive process of the White House Gun Violence Commission. We concur with President Obama’s call today for all Americans to do their part, and agree with the report’s conclusion that the entertainment and video game industries have a responsibility to give parents tools and choices about the movies and programs their children watch and the games their children play.

The same entertainment is enjoyed across all cultures and nations, but tragic levels of gun violence remain unique to our country. Scientific research and international and domestic crime data all point toward the same conclusion: entertainment does not cause violent behavior in the real world.

We will embrace a constructive role in the important national dialogue around gun violence in the United States, and continue to collaborate with the Administration and Congress as they examine the facts that inform meaningful solutions.

Sources: Venturebeat, Slate

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