Three weeks after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, President Trump is pivoting away from gun reform and instead plans to host a meeting about video game violence. On Thursday afternoon, Trump will bring together representatives from the video game industry and their critics to discuss whether violence in video games contributes to real-life violence. It's not a new conversation in Washington, but it has left Twitter users wondering why Trump's talking about video games and not gun control.
The argument that violent video games are responsible for increasing rates of violence in kids is an old one. While she was a U.S. senator from New York, Hillary Clinton introduced legislation to make it more difficult for minors to buy violent games. Well before that, lawmakers in the 1990s were arguing that violent video games desensitized children to violence.
As Politico pointed out, the phenomenon of discussing a link between violent video games and gun violence is also quite old. The debate returns after school shootings, including the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School. Trump himself has argued against video game violence in the past, shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
But to many Twitter users, Trump's decision to hold the meeting is a cop-out from proposing concrete gun reforms. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Trump had Republicans cringing by making statements like "take the firearms first, and then go to court." He's since apparently shifted away from that rhetoric and instead is focusing more on video games.
Writer Jamil Smith explained in a series of tweets that by going after video games, Trump likely will find himself crossing the Parkland students who've been calling on lawmakers to carry out more restrictive gun control measures. Smith suggested Trump is waging a "culture war" — and a culture war against video games is one that the president won't necessarily win.
Video game developers like Matthew Chapman, meanwhile, took a look at how much other countries spent on video games alongside their rates of gun violence. He pointed out that although Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Australia are all in the top five for per-capita video game spending, each has extremely restrictive anti-firearm measures and doesn't not see frequent mass shootings like the United States does.
One of the most outspoken Parkland shooting survivors, David Hogg, has been quick to criticize Trump for trying to scapegoat video games. Hogg is one of the co-founders of Never Again MSD, a movement launched by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students to call for stricter gun control legislation. When he learned of Trump's planned video game violence meeting, Hogg reportedly challenged the president to implement gun control measures instead.
It's also worth noting that while studies show a heightened emotional state in young people who play violent video games, none of those studies found a correlation between that heightened emotional state and physical violence.
Many Twitter users were also quick to say they think the meeting is a distraction from gun reform efforts in the wake of the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School. Although Trump recently suggested that Republicans shouldn't be "petrified" by the NRA, the powerful gun lobby has routinely blamed a "corrupt" video game industry for mass shootings.
Trump has waffled back and forth when it comes to gun control. He moved to ban bump stocks and has criticized the fact that the Parkland shooter was able to buy an AR-15 when he was under 21 years of age. But Trump also has been delaying his announcement of proposed action on guns. His administration also revoked Obama-era background check regulations. Trump may be sincere in his belief that video game violence and physical violence are linked, but Twitter users made it clear they're not buying what they see as a distraction from the much more urgent issue of gun control.