In the 6th installment of our series on Sandy Hook, we asked whether regulation of the press might be an effective way to reduce future such events:
Press coverage of events such as Sandy Hook creates two problems. First, some individuals may commit mass murder because they desire fame. To the extent that they do, and their crimes are amply covered by the press, then it is inevitable that press coverage contributes to the supply of mass murders.
Second, press coverage may induce copycats — persons who would not commit mass murder but for the example set by others. Several newspapers have reported possible copycat incidents; we do not link to them here because it serves no constructive purpose.
The search warrants that were issued after the shooting have now been disclosed.
Among the items seized (Exhibit #630) was an article about the school shooting at Northern Illinois University..
We did not discuss the possibility that violent entertainment might be a relevant regulatory target; this was an oversight. In the complaint supporting the search warrant there is the following item:
12. That [on] 12/14/12, Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed [redacted] … [redacted; presumably Adam Lanza] rarely leaves his home and considers him to be a shut in and an avid gamer who plays Call of Duty, amongst other games.
Call of Duty is not a single game, but rather a series of warfare simulations. The company markets numerous accessories for its customers. In December it was reported that sales of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 were $500 million in the first 24 hours and reached $1 billion in 15 days.
The news clipping and Lanza’s interest in violent video games are only evidence. They do not justify any inferences about causation. More to the point of regulatory policy, even if it were known for certain that Lanza was motivated by or sought to copy the NIU shootings, and the Sandy Hookrampage shooting has important qualitative differences making it hard to identify plausible regulatory instruments that might be proposed, and harder to estimate their effectiveness. Because millions of others also saw news of the NIU shootings but were not motivated by it to commit mass murder, there is little doubt that regulation of the news media would be inefficient because it could not be well targeted.
Similarly, Call of Duty does not simulate mass murder at an elementary school, and though millions of customers may fantasize about engaging in violent warfare, very few actually do. So it is difficult or impossible to estimate the effectiveness of plausible regulatory instruments. It is virtually certain that none would be efficient.