Commentary: Gun violence in movies is a big part of the problem

We are missing the mark (pun not intended) on the gun violence debate. As the nation reels from the horrific school shootings, Hollywood jumps to support the March for Our Lives campaign, pledging millions of dollars in support.

I applaud these individuals, but question their motivations. If Hollywood truly cares about reducing gun violence, pledge not only your money, but vow to stop making films that glorify and reward gun violence.

We flocked to see “Black Panther” — yet another superhero movie in a very long line of movies containing high levels of violence (including 163 shootings). And this film will not be the last that glamorizes violence. We are getting worse over time.

A recent study found that gun violence has more than tripled in PG-13 films since the mid-1980s and that PG-13 films have just as much (or even more) gun violence than rated R films.

This contributes to a culture that is accepting of gun violence – and it starts from a very young age. Recent research examined the impact of gun violence in films on children’s interest in real guns. Children, 8-12 years old, watched either 20 minutes of a movie containing no violence or high levels of gun violence and then played in a laboratory filled with toys — including a real gun (unloaded). Many children found the gun and picked it up. However, those who saw the film containing gun violence were almost three times more likely to pull the trigger and were much more likely to fire the gun at real people. And this was only 20 minutes. Imagine what a lifetime of consuming a heavy diet of gun violence will do.

Do we really want a culture where gun violence is unacceptable? Where it makes us sick to our stomachs? We need to stop producing films and television shows that send this message over and over and over again. We’ve created a culture where it is not only acceptable to portray murder, but we now call it entertainment of the highest order.

As a professor of child development, I have researched the impact of media violence on youth for more than 20 years. Creating laws that reduce an individual’s access to assault rifles will likely have an impact, and I support and applaud the March for our Lives campaign.

However, if we truly desire change than we must transform our culture and our hearts and minds will follow. Hollywood, do you really want to modify the nature of the gun debate in America? Stop making movies that glorify gun violence. And you, fair viewer, do you also demand change? Then stop buying it — refuse to spend your hard-earned cash supporting media where gun violence reigns supreme. That is how real change happens.

Sarah M. Coyne | Brigham Young University

Sarah M. Coyne, Ph.D., is graduate coordinator for Marriage, Family, and Human Development and an associate professor at the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.