Friday's horrific shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., appear to have improved chances that gun laws, ammunition sales video games and mental health policies will all get new scrutiny.
President Obama said in his remarks in Newtown Sunday night that he will bring the powers of his office to bear on “changes” to make sure there are no more mass shootings. While it is widely accepted that he was referring to gun laws, other areas are also likely to get a review.
Stock prices of gun makers tumbled on Wall Street as talk of gun control surged. Shares of Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. fell as much as 5% on Monday after sinking more than 4% on Friday.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a National Rifle Association (NRA) member and supporter of gun rights, said over the weekend that “everything should be on the table” to prevent future massacres. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) said she would push for a reinstatement of the ban on the sale of “assault weapons,” which expired several years ago.
Weapons of war
“As I have said many times before—and now repeat in the wake of yet another tragedy—weapons of war don’t belong on our streets or in our theaters, shopping malls and, most of all, our schools,” Feinstein said. “I hope and trust that in the next session of Congress there will be sustained and thoughtful debate about America’s gun culture and our responsibility to prevent more loss of life.”
Some gun enthusiasts are beginning to talk openly about restrictions on ammunition purchases. Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton doesn't understand people's need for high-capacity ammo magazines, he writes in Monday's column.
"Neither do I get the objection to registering guns or licensing owners," he says. "Or requiring a license to buy ammunition, for that matter — not when a slight inconvenience could save lives."
Skelton says that the hunting culture that he grew up with has been replaced with "a narrower gun worship based on the fear of other humans."
There have been periodic suggestions that restricting ammunition purchases to small quantities could prevent at least some of the worst mass attacks that rely on high-capacity assault weapons. A decade or so ago, the idea was floated as a possible way around the Second Amendment ban on gun control.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has maintained its usual post-massacre silence. It went so far as to temporarily take down its Facebook page, temporarily redirecting it to the main page on its Website, just a few days after celebatiing its 1.7 million "Like."
There is also likely to be a debate about mental health issues. Earlier this year Connecticut state legislators debated proposals “to enhance the care and treatment of persons with psychiatric disabilities in both inpatient and outpatient settings.” But a bill to that effect was defeated after critics said it would have allowed people to be committed against their will and called it discriminatory and a violation of patients' privacy rights.
And then there are violent video games in which players often assume the role of commandos and shoot opposing avatars in increasingly realistic fashion. While not every violent video game player goes out and shoots up a school, those who have done so were said to be avid players.
And in some cases, including the most recent case of Adam Lanza, they have dressed themselves as commandos.
Violent video games
Over the years a number of studies on the effects of violent video games have reached conflicting conclusions. A February 2011 study from Ryerson University concluded that people who played violent games did not get desensitized to violence or have differences in their “emotional memory.”
But last week, three days before Lanza's murderous rampage, ConsumerAffairs reported on a study done at Ohio State, where researchers concluded that playing violent video games for an extended period of time tends to color your worldview, causing you to see the world as a violent place best suited to aggressive solutions.
The researchers say they found that people who played a violent video game for three consecutive days showed increases in aggressive behavior and hostile expectations each day they played. Meanwhile, those who played nonviolent games showed no meaningful changes in aggression or hostile expectations over that period.
“It’s important to know the long-term causal effects of violent video games, because so many young people regularly play these games,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State.
In the coming weeks, President Obama says he will engage his fellow citizens – from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.
“As a nation, we are left with some hard questions,” the President said in a speech Sunday night.
Expect those questions to be asked, and attempts at answers made, in the coming weeks.