President Donald Trump, as he seeks to respond to gun violence in the wake of the Parkland school shooting, will gather opposing sides at the White House on Thursday to discuss the role of video game violence.
Trump has signaled in the wake of the shooting that killed 17 people that he believes violence in video games is partly to blame for real life violence. On Thursday, the President will host a meeting between representatives from the video game industry and those who think games have made kids more violent in recent years.
The meeting marks a distinct pivot away from the gun control measures discussed by Trump and others in the immediate wake of the shooting. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said last month that the plan would be released by the end of last week, but sources have told CNN that no plan will be released at least until after Thursday’s meeting.
“As we continue to work towards creating school safety programs that protect all children, the President will be meeting with video game industry leaders and members of Congress to discuss violent video game exposure and the correlation to aggression and desensitization in children,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Wednesday. “This meeting will be the first of many with industry leaders to discuss this important issue.”
Trump has invited Entertainment Software Association CEO Mike Gallagher and Patricia Vance, president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, to the meeting, according to a source familiar with the planning.
Trump has also invited Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of the company that makes the game “Grand Theft Auto,” and Robert Altman, chairman and CEO of the parent company that produces games like “Fallout,” the White House announced. Both game series have consistently been rated “M,” by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, meaning they are intended for “mature” audiences.
The Washington Post first reported details of the meeting participants.
Dan Hewitt, spokesman for the Entertainment Software Association, said in a statement Wednesday that “video games are plainly not the issue.”
“Entertainment is distributed and consumed globally, but the US has an exponentially higher level of gun violence than any other nation,” Hewitt said. “The upcoming meeting at the White House … will provide the opportunity to have a fact-based conversation about video game ratings, our industry’s commitment to parents, and the tools we provide to make informed entertainment choices.”
But the meeting will also include Rep. Vicky Hartzler – a Missouri Republican who said after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that the federal government needed to address violence in video games, not gun violence – and Brent Bozell, the head of the Media Research Center, who argued after Sandy Hook that Democrats deny “our violent media has any influence on these under-21 shooters.”
“Unproven and emotionally driven gun control legislation is a common and simplistic response to gun-related tragedies, but such lawmaking usually fails to address the underlying problem,” she wrote in a 2013 Politico op-ed. “We must have a meaningful conversation about mental health issues and other possible cultural and societal contributors to violent behavior, such as violence in video games.”
A spokeswoman for Hartzler confirmed that the congresswoman would attend the meeting. A White House official confirmed Bozell’s attendance.
The meeting could become a contentious affair – and possibly a venue for Trump to slam video game executives for, in his view, increasing violent tendencies in young people.
Trump, in the wake of the shooting, said he thinks video game companies are somewhat culpable.
“We have to look at the internet because a lot of bad things are happening to young kids and young minds and their minds are being formed,” he said. “And also video games. I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.”
Past presidents – including Barack Obama – also suggested there could be a link between violent video games and violence in young people.
Obama pushed Congress after the Sandy Hook shooting to “research the causes and prevention of gun violence,” including “the effects that violent video games have on young minds.”
Sanders said Wednesday that the White House thinks the debate over video game violence is “an important discussion to have and one the President looks forward to.”