Trump Blamed Video Games For Parkland Shooting But His School Safety Commission Says Otherwise

The Trump administration's Federal Commission on School Safety, launched in response to the 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, released its final report Tuesday, highlighting recommendations for the prevention and mitigation of school shootings from the Department of Education, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice. Contrary to President Donald Trump's explanation for school violence, the report largely absolves video games.

Shortly after the February shooting in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump pinned the blame on violent video games. "I'm hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people's thoughts," Trump told the state's attorney general in March.

Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it is creating monsters!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2012

But despite the president's preferred explanation and his long-held antipathy, the report largely leaves video games out of its recommendations, instead concluding that combating cyberbullying, establishing "No Notoriety" media norms for the shooter, training teachers to assess threats and arming more people in schools would better prevent and mitigate mass shootings. The report also has a strong focus on rescinding Obama-era recommendations intended to combat racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions.

After months of research, visiting successful programs & hearing presentations, today the Federal Commission on School Safety will present its final report to @POTUS which details best practices and policy recommendations for improving school safety.

— U.S. Department of Education (@usedgov) December 18, 2018

A section titled "Violent Entertainment and Rating Systems" opens with anecdotes that attempt to draw a connection between school shootings and video games, including neighbors of the Parkland shooter describing how he often played video games for up to 15 hours a day ("It was kill, kill, blow up something, and kill some more, all day," one said).

"Children have 24/7 access to multiple forms of entertainment at their fingertips. Their exposure to violent entertainment is of particular concern--in television, video games, social media, music, movies, graphic novels and books," the chapter opens. "Violent content is ubiquitous across these platforms and continues to grow."

But despite the opening, the chapter largely punts on the question of how much violent media contributes to real-world violence, instead citing some potential linkages, such as Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan Rowell Huesmann's theory of "violent behavior scripts" learned from video games and "activated under certain environmental conditions."

The chapter similarly cites Professor of Psychology at Stetson University Christopher Ferguson, who reported to the commission "studies that purport to link video games and violence are often not replicable," making them a "distraction from other factors."

.@realDonaldTrump & @BetsyDeVosED have reached a new low. Their “report” on school safety puts special interests and the NRA ahead of protecting America’s school children. Students & parents have had #Enough. It’s time for the GOP to stop ignoring them.

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) December 19, 2018

Instead, the bulk of the chapter focuses on voluntary ratings systems, citing both MPAA movie ratings and ESRB games ratings, finding that ratings systems were both comprehensive and widely used by parents. Rather than violent video games and movies, the chapter's final recommendations instead focus on ensuring adequate internet safety measures in school and call for industry self-regulators to refine and improve rating systems.

The commission and report was originally announced in the wake of a meeting between Trump and representatives of the video game industry, which also included reactionary figures like founder of the Parents Television Council L. Brent Bozell III, who blames the "heterophobic" media, including shows like Glee, for undermining "traditional American values."

Bozell was joined by Dave Grossman, the author of multiple books linking video games and school violence, who once claimed those who deny that video games cause adolescent violence should "be viewed as the moral equivalent of Holocaust deniers" despite the overwhelming research disconfirming his claims. Grossman has argued that video games give school shooters "supernatural, superhuman skill" and that not enough bad guys in TV shows and movies are black people.

But while the Final Report on the Federal Commission on Public Safety is considerably more sober and well-researched than its media spectacle origins, it shares in common the conclusions made by Trump's video game "experts," arguing against establishing age restrictions on firearm purchases. No other form of gun control is considered in the report.