What’s the connection, if any, between media which contains violent episodes and the gun violence that occurs more than 200 times every, single day? Our good friend Dan Romer, from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at Penn has just co-published a paper which indicates that there is not only a connection between media violence and real-life violence, but that the connection is getting stronger every day.

The research plan consisted of reviewing 1,476 hours of episodes of 33 popular TV dramas from 2000 to 2018, of which 60% were cop shows, the remainder split between lawyers and MD’s. All the shows were rated TV-14, i.e., content “’unsuitable for children under 14 years-of-age.’”

What the researchers found out, and this is something which I hope you’ll read with care, is that over the study period the actual amount of violence depicted in the study sample didn’t increase. What increased was “the use of firearms as the preferred method of violence.”

That’s a very important finding. In a previous study, the authors found that parents “see movie depictions of gun use as acceptable for viewing by adolescents over the age of 14 if the violence is viewed as justified for the defense of self or others.” 

And here’s the kicker to the above: “there is evidence that the use of guns for self-defense and other ethically acceptable forms of violence in entertainment could be a source of imitation, especially in youth vulnerable to such influence.”

When do kids who wind up using a gun to commit an act of violence first get interested in guns? In their early adolescent years.

The authors of this study have given us a possible explanation for a unique American cultural belief known as ‘virtuous violence,’ i.e., the use of violence to right what might otherwise be a wrong. The USA is the only country in the entire world which codifies such behavior in what we refer to as ‘stand your ground’ laws (SYG.) And there’s nothing as effective for engaging in an act of virtuous violence than picking up a loaded gun, pointing it at someone else and – bang.!

We don’t know all that much about non-fatal gun assaults because the victim usually gets himself to the ER and always seems unable to identify the guy who put a bullet in his arm, or his leg, or even his head. But we can assume that the only difference between fatal and non-fatal gun assaults is that in the latter category, the shooter didn’t shoot straight.

Fatal shootings invariably involve two or more individuals who had some degree of personal contact before the shooting actually began. A new book by our friend Tom Gabor finds this personal connection to be typical of mass shootings as well.

When did the media depiction of guns move from the Wild West to urban streets?  In 1971, the first Dirty Harry movie was released. Clint Eastwood held up a 44-magnum revolver and said there was nothing as accurate and deadly that could be carried around.

The difference, however, between Clint’s Smith & Wesson Model 29 and the Glocks and other handguns which proliferate in the TV shows studied by Dan Romer and Patrick Jamieson is that the revolver holds 6 rounds, and a Glock holds 17. Stick an extended magazine into the Glock and you have gun that will fire 30 military-grade rounds of ammunition before you have to stop shooting to reload.

Next time you have a minute to crank up your Netflix website and look at a movie or TV series which has a shooting scene, you’ll note that the shooter never pulls the trigger only once unless he’s firing a full-auto gun. If the gun used in the movie is one of those ‘legal,’ semi-automatic jobs, it usually gets shot all over the place.

Our media industry promotes virtuous violence by depicting guns that can be shot again, and again, and again. But we also have a culture which believes overwhelmingly that owning one of those guns is a good thing.

Want to figure that one out?