MORAL PANIC IN REAL TIME

Remember the post from last week about a tragic shooting in Louisiana? An 8-year-old boy shot and killed his grandmother with a handgun he found in the house and the news media, naturally, jumped on the lurid story. A quick survey of headlines spawned by the event makes it clear where the media (and cops) initially laid the blame:

Police: 8-Year-Old Shoots, Kills Elderly Caregiver After Playing Video Game

Louisiana Boy, 8, Shoots 90-Year-Old Relative After Playing Video Game, Police Say

Cops: Boy Played Video Game, Shot 90-Year-Old Relative

“La. Police Say Boy, 8, Fatally Shot 90-Year-Old Relative After Watching Violent Video Game”

“8-Year-Old Intentionally Shot and Killed Elderly Caregiver After Playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’: Louisiana Police”

The conclusion anyone would reach, were the story to have stopped there, was that the murder was motivated by the violence portrayed in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. But the story didn’t end there…though, as usual, the amount of coverage the correction received couldn’t compare with the original moral panic the media whipped up after the shooting. “What police initially called a ‘homicide’ has been ruled an accidental shooting,” according to a report at Game Politics.

Following the incident the Louisiana judge who decided the boy could remain in the custody of his parents also added this very important observation: “On whether the shooting was a homicide or an accident, the judge said that it was definitely an unfortunate tragedy.” In other words, the child was not programmed to kill by a video game. Instead, he was sadly mistaken that the gun he pointed at his grandmother was “a toy gun…a play gun,” according to the judge.

This revelation will come as no surprise to researchers Christopher Ferguson and Cheryl Olson (author of, ironically, a book titled Grand Theft Childhood) whose latest study has concluded that violent video games such as Mortal KombatGrand Theft Auto, and Halo are not “triggers” that cause depressed kids or those suffering from attention deficit disorder to turn into “aggressive bullies, delinquents, or murderers.” In fact, their study Video Game Violence Use Among “Vulnerable” Populations: The Impact of Violent Games on Delinquency and Bullying Among Children with Clinically Elevated Depression or Attention Deficit Symptoms indicated that playing these games “actually had a ‘very slight’ calming effect on youth with attention deficit symptoms and helped to reduce their aggressive and bullying behavior.”

Kudos to them for their work, and additional kudos to Constance Steinkuehler, former White House “video game czar” (bet you didn’t know President Obama even had one), who responded to the shooting in Louisiana this way: “I find it an incredible distraction when something like this happens, and there’s this incredible tragedy, that we jump to these variables that if they’re part of the equation they’re almost negligible…variables like video games instead of the most obvious variables in the circumstances – there’s a loaded gun in the house.”

And…Boom – there it is.

 

SUSPENSION SUSPENDED

Remember the story from the BAD FOR YOU post on June 6th? A kindergartner brought his cowboy cap gun to class and after two-hours of interrogation, he walked out of the principal’s office with a 10-day suspension (for “possession of a look-alike gun”) and peed-in pants (because he was scared).

Well, he can stop shaking: the county school chief reversed “in its entirety” the boy’s suspension after “carefully considering both the needs of the student and those of the school system.” The boy’s attorney also called for the kindergartner’s criminal record to be “wiped clean.” He argued that the boy was clueless when the conduct code was presented because he did not know how to read and could not “grasp the gravity of the rules.”

The codes were handed out to students the first week of school in the form of coloring books.

SCHOOLS OUT…OF CONTROL

Since school will be ending soon, let’s bid farewell with a collection of some recent “War on Fun” stories from the front lines of education:

School officials “grilled” a kindergartener for bringing his “cowboy-style cap gun” to show a friend. During the two hour interrogation, the culprit peed his pants. In addition to wet underwear, he received a 10-day suspension for “possession of a look-alike gun.”

A 6-year-old Massachusetts student caused “quite a disturbance” on the school bus with his “tiny plastic toy gun.”

Accused of “brandishing a weapon” at school, one 10-year-old in Virginia wound up fingerprinted and photographed by police, then sent before a judge twice. “How can you go from a toy gun to a criminal charge…?” asked Tina Hone, founder of the Coalition of The Silence, a pro-student advocacy group in Northern Virginia.

A Nerf gun which fired foam “bullets” was responsible for the lockdown of two high schools in the Bronx, N.Y.

Drawing “what appeared to be weapons” in a notebook lead to the arrest of one New Jersey high school student.

Another high school student was suspended for using a photo of a gun as his school-issued computer background photo.

And the list goes on…

Local Student Suspended for Gun Gesture”

“Kindergarten Student Suspended for Pink Bubble Gun Threat in Pennsylvania”

“School Confiscates Third-Grader’s Cupcakes Topped with Toy Soldiers”

“Philadelphia Girl Scolded, Searched for Pulling Out Paper Gun at School”

“Virginia 2nd-Grader Suspended for Pretending His Pencil was a Gun”

“Maryland First-Grader Suspended for Making Gun Gesture with Hand”

“Tamaqua 7th Grader Suspended for Pointing Finger ‘Gun’ at Classmates”

“6-Year-Old Expelled for Bringing Plastic Gun to School”

This last one has a happy ending. After giving “careful thought and consideration for the safety of the school community,” the South Carolina school superintendent allowed the expelled girl to return to class.

A Maryland boy also got some good news…maybe. It depends on your opinion about the pro-gun group the National Rifle Association, who gave 8-year-old Joshua Welch a lifetime membership to their organization. Josh had been suspended earlier in the school year for unintentionally biting his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun. The NRA, seeing all the media attention the story was getting, thought it was a great idea to honor Josh (though he’s still unsure of exactly what the group is). Along with the membership came a $550 certificate, which the boy handed to his parents “and returned to playing games on a cellphone.”

Another response to the Pop Tart incident came from Maryland Senator J. B. Jennings, who introduced a bill in Congress to try to bring the public school system’s Zero Tolerance polices under control. Readers not familiar with the term “Zero Tolerance” can take a look at the explanation from BAD FOR YOU (lavishly illustrated in the comic below).

BFU.zt

While the actual book won’t be out until November, you can see the original BAD FOR YOU map by clicking on “The Book” section above this website’s banner; the map is the first image at top left. Everything listed above has happened after the map was completed.

You can expect more Zero Tolerance roundups in the future.