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There were tears as well as hugs, prayers and song on OSU's Memorial Union Quad in October 2005 as close to 200 people turned out to remember the victims of a mass shooting at a Roseburg community college.

Former Army Ranger and military psychologist Lt. Col.  David Grossman came through Corvallis on a book tour in 1995, soon after the publication of his book "On Killing: the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society." His book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

At his talk at Oregon State University, Grossman explained that after the Vietnam War, when it became apparent to military personnel that humans actually don't really like to kill other humans, the U.S. military decided to get experts to design video games to encourage soldiers to increase their "kill rate." Grossman was one of the people who worked on inventing such games. He had no qualms about this work, believing that this use of videos was an appropriate and effective technique in the military, where there is always a chain of command to control possible overuse of killing. However, because he was also a military psychologist, Grossman was one of the first mental health professionals on the scene in several mass shootings. There he had become convinced that violent video games and movies are dangerous when not under military supervision.

For example, he was among the first on the scene in Paducah, Kentucky, where a 14-year-old boy, who had never shot a real gun before, stole a gun from a neighbor's house, brought it to school and fired eight shots at a student prayer group. Of the eight shots he fired, he had eight hits on eight different kids. Five were head shots, the other three upper torso. The result was three dead, one paralyzed for life.

When Grossman went into the boy's house he found that the boy had a virtual arcade of violent games, and he realized that the boy had been trained in both the psychological and the motor skills to kill someone. Just squeezing a "trigger" (a weapon-like game controller) over and over with the hand muscles was not just good fun for the child, but training in the motor skills needed to shoot someone with a real gun. Many in the video game industry were unhappy with his term "murder simulator" to describe first-person shooter games.

Grossman later co-wrote a book called "Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill." There, he and co-author Gloria DeGaetano assign blame to the makers of violent video games, the TV networks, and the Hollywood movie studios: These are the people responsible for the fact that children witness literally thousands of violent images a day. They explain the evidence, much of it based on recent major scientific studies and empirical research, that movies, TV, and video games are not just conditioning children to be violent —and unaware of the consequences of that violence — but are teaching the very mechanics of killing. Another effect is to harden them emotionally to the task of murder by simulating the killing of hundreds or thousands of opponents in a single typical video game.

A factor Grossman never mentioned the fact was how our  gun laws also contribute to the growing number of victims per shooting, when gun buyers have easy, legal access to weapons used for killing large numbers of victims.

Sadly, 20 years after Grossman first wrote, violent images still are widely available in movies, computer games and TV and access to guns has not tightened. Mass killings continue to increase, while countries like Japan, which have stringent gun laws, have an extremely low number of firearm deaths.

So we could do two well-known things: One is not exposing children to violent images of killing, and the other is tightening gun-ownership laws. When will we find the will to take these actions?

Marybetts Sinclair lives in Corvallis. 


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