Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin starts off sounding like he is going to make a compelling point, then drives his train off the rails by blaming gun violence on things that have absolutely nothing to do with gun violence: pornography, video games, movies, song lyrics (see video below). Really? Song lyrics?
The increase of hard-core pornography and violence-themed video games, movies, music, and lyrics are actually associated with historic decreases in interpersonal violence across Western societies. This claim is among the most robust findings in all of social science.
Sorry governor, mass shooters are not motivated by movies or video games or pornography. If anything, these materials substitute for aggression and violence. There is scientific evidence showing that these materials demotivate those who consume them. Isn’t this the complaint? That we can’t get our kids to go outside? And when they’re playing violent-themed video games for hours on end, they’re not perpetrating acts of violence.
Whether pornography motivates masturbation and sexual intercourse or merely aids these activities is unclear. Maybe it’s both. But who cares? Why is photographing, filming, or video recording anal play, coitus, cunnilingus, fellatio, etc., degrading? People enjoy doing those things. Some even get paid doing something they enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. Why is the governor talking about them? It’s silly.
As for this claim about abortion, if we agree that the frequency of abortion increased after Roe v Wade, we have to agree that this increase is associated with a historic decrease in interpersonal violence. What would be the causal link anyway? Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 because women gained more control over their reproductive capacity in 1973?
You know what else is associated with a substantial decrease in violence in Western society? Growing secularism. That’s right, declining religiosity is associated with a safer (and more moral) society. As people have moved away from organized religion and the Judeo-Christian god, violence has declined. The progressive disappearance of corporal punishment, the practice of physically punishing children, is also associated with a decrease in violence. So is increasing sexual equality and female empowerment. So is the institution of civil rights laws and policies—those changes that recognizes the dignity and worth of all human beings regardless of the color of their skin. And greater tolerance of gay and lesbian rights.
All of these things—many of them things conservatives (publicly) don’t like—are associated with not more but less killing and violence. That these developments are associated with less violence is not merely empirical fact; it’s common sense. We are civilizing ourselves. What do you expect? This is good news. Share this gospel with everybody you meet. More people need to know about it, so they don’t fall for the nonsense folks like Governor Bevin peddle.
But, alas, we do have this problem of mass shootings, which is really a problem of large casualty counts associated with mass shootings. What’s behind this? Easy availability of high-powered military grade weaponry and an industry that fosters and enables gun fetishism are among the greatest sources of the problem.
The governor talked about the widespread ownership of guns in our society in his childhood. Guns were in my childhood, too. I have been around guns my whole life. But we didn’t have the types of weapons used in mass shootings when I was growing up. We had rifles and shotguns. Maybe a pistol in the family. It’s hard to pull off Virginia Tech with the stuff we carried around with us. Not that there weren’t murders. There were actually more murders back then! But we did not see mass shooting events routinely taking the lives of dozens of people. Not in the United States.
The governor said there are fewer households with guns. True. He’s been reading. But he forgot to tell his audience that there are more guns than ever, which means that many of the households have become, in effect, armories. Isn’t this what police and the FBI find when they search the homes of these mass shooters? Many of them have a lot of military-grade weaponry and lots—and I mean lots—of ammo. And they have all sorts of gun paraphernalia. It’s a fascination. Cult-like. Typically, a cult of one. A person has lots of guns designed for one purpose—killing human beings—for what reason? I’m always suspicious. We hope the purpose of this technology is never realized. So why allow it?
There are other things associated with mass killing. The glorification of military culture and the pathology of violent masculinity. After all, look at how so many of these killers are dressed. They’re obsessed with military and paramilitary fashion. They’re literally dressed to kill. (Of course clothes aren’t a source of violence. In this case, they are an outward manifestation of personal disposition.) The rise of violent religious fundamentalism, both Christianist and Islamist ideologies, that is, theistic tribalism, motivates a lot of these events. You see the source of violence in their rhetoric and in their targets. It’s not movies and video games that inspire violence but ideology. In our central cities, mass violence, for example gang-related shootings, is driven by structural inequality, hopelessness, tribalism, and, again, easy access to high-powered military-grade weaponry. These are cultures of violence.
Given all the facts, how do we combat mass killing in an optimistic era of declining crime and violence? Many of these sources will take a while to diminish or remove. But one of the sources we could ameliorate almost immediately and achieve the greatest effect: remove the means to perpetrate mass death. Comprehensive gun control and bans on most types of weapons and ammo.
The woman who asked the question that got the governor going was accused of eye-rolling and smugness. The governor thought she was being disrespectful. No, Governor, she just wasn’t buying the nonsense falling from your mouth. Bevin’s attempt to take the moral high road was in reality an exercise in rehearsing a failed doctrine masquerading as morality. He is merely feigning an ethical stance. In actuality, he’s a tool of the gun lobby.