Few crimes are more disturbing than violent murders at schools. We deplore the tragic shooting
in Winnenden, Germany, that left 16 dead on Friday. Such attacks shake communities to their cores, and we understand that, in the aftermath, societies must look within themselves to both understand why such attacks happen and to help prevent them in the future. In the aftermath, a call has gone out to remove violent video games from store shelves. Banning video games or enforcing a blanket social restriction, however, is not the answer.
After a tragedy such as this, video games often receive immediate scrutiny. The games can have violence only matched by films, but with the added element of a player’s interaction. Studies may have found corollary evidence linking violent games to violent behavior, but, as anyone who has taken even the most basic statistics class can remind us, correlation does not equal causation, and there is no convincing evidence of a causal effect here. There are simply too many lurking variables—socially awkward teenagers may play violent video games, but so do many perfectly happy teens. We cannot prove that playing the games somehow morphs teens into serial killers.
As with Columbine, and the recent shootings in Finland
this September, and even in Germany in 2006, many people are concerned and look to lawmakers to respond. We must be reasonable, however, in our expectations. There will always be sociopaths and oddballs in any society or era. We cannot hope to make every single person happy or non-violent. Exaggerating the link between video games and teen violence in this case smacks more of political ploy than effective measure. Policymakers who push for new bans on violent video games help placate the doubts their constituents feel while demonstrating their own supposedly proactive response to crisis. Action without reason, however, is not enough to prevent such shootings in the future and only acts a psychologically placating solution.
Part of Germany’s shock comes from the fact that this represents the second high-profile multiple killing since it tightened
its gun control laws following a school shooting seven years ago. Obviously gun control is not the cause of such crimes, but perhaps this shooting shows that such measures are not enough. The shooter’s father was a shooting club member who owned 15 legally licensed weapons. More of the weight of such crimes must fall on the parents and others who leave such weapons in reach. Allowing unlicensed individuals to access one’s weapons should incur tougher penalties. Stricter penalties and regulations on gun sales could help keep such weapons out of troubled hands, but, as long as licensed guns are available, we must work harder to keep them secure.