In December 2012, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre responded to the horrific Sandy Hook shooting by blaming access to virtual guns instead of real guns:

There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting industry that sells and sows violence against its own people, through vicious, violent video games with names like ‘Bulletstorm,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Splatterhouse.’”

The move was smart because it did two things: it showed that American culture had morally deteriorated to the kind of people who can find no disagreement with such an assessment, and enacted something Philip Mirowski, critic of neoliberalism, calls agnotology, the "intentional manufacturing of doubt." Stating that violent video games are a problem makes the common political type think, "Yes, video games today are very violent. Yes, we never had such violent video games when we were growing up. So maybe virtual games are the problem and not accessibility to real guns." The goal is not to win you over, but to throw you into doubt. This makes the obvious—real guns are the problem—less obvious, and it makes you feel like a democratic citizen because you've carefully weighed all of the arguments.

But all it takes is a little research to realize that violent video games are as far from the problem as our sun is to the next star, Alpha Centauri. In this post, Jon Walker argues that there is already a national worldwide experiment happening with regards to video games and gun deaths, and the problem is not the games:

There has basically been a natural worldwide experiment taking place and it shows video games are not responsible for America's unusually high number of gun deaths. It is important to note there is no such thing as an “American” market for video games. The market for video games is completely international. The bestselling games in America and Europe right now are nearly identical, except for the regional difference in sports game preference. The same “violent” first person shooter games are equally as popular in Europe as they are in the United States.

The bestselling games in America are indeed almost identical with the ones in Europe. But what do we find with gun-related deaths in Europe, where the gun ownership rate is very low? Frank Thomas and John Lawrence at the San Diego Free Press have some of the sad numbers:

The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world – at 89 guns for every 100 Americans compared to 6 in Britain, 31 for Canada and Norway. And the gun murder figures themselves are equally astounding. While there were 9,960 U.S. gun homicides in 2010, there were only 58 in Britain. Britain´s population is one-fifth of the US population. When adjusted for this, British gun murders are equivalent to 290 US gun murders.

I'm certain any study of the dangers of violent games when compared to the dangers of easy access to guns will reveal that the former cannot at all compete with the latter. I also think that the real danger of violent video games is not how it transitions players from the screen to reality, but from screen to screen.

This installation just enhances my point. Artists installed a large-scale image of a boy that's visible to the screens of drone operators in the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, a place that US drones frequently bomb. From Not a Bug Splat:

Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face.

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  • used with permission from notabugsplat.com

The targets monitored by a drone operator are indeed similar to those in video games—both are representations of reality, rather than reality. And so the problem with video games is not that they make it easier for a violent person to leap from screen to reality (the NRA's argument), but for a regular person to shift from screen to screen, representation to representation. One representation is a pure simulation, and the other represents what's actually happening in the real world. Not a Bug Splat claims that over 3,500 people have been killed by drones in this region of Pakistan. This situation is far more dangerous because the difference between two screens is much easier to erase than that between screen and reality.