Movie violence may 'provide teens with scripts for using guns'

Movie violence may 'provide teens with scripts for using guns'
Most parents rely on ratings to decide whether a film is appropriate for their children to watch, but a recent study shows that gun violence in PG-13 movies (age 13+) has surpassed that in R movies, which only admit those aged 17 and older.

"Seeing guns in films might also provide youth with scripts for using guns," the authors of the study ‘Gun Violence Trends in Movies’ warn.

They analyzed 945 movies cherry-picked from the 30 top-grossing movies from 1950 to 2012.

Trained coders identified the presence of violence in each five-minute film segment for half of the leading 30 films since 1950, and the presence of guns in violent segments since 1985, the first year the PG-13 rating was used.

According to the study, conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State University, violence in films has more than doubled since 1950, while gun violence in PG-13–rated films, especially popular among younger people, has more than tripled since 1985.

"Gun violence in PG-13 films has increased to the point where it recently exceeded the rate in R-rated films,"
the authors of the study said. In 2012, the level of gun violence in PG-13 films exceeded the mean in R-rated films, they found.

Research shows that teens frequently choose to watch extremely violent films. Among the top-grossing films in 2012, rated PG-13, were such violence-packed dramas as ‘Skyfall’, ‘The Avengers’, ‘Taken 2’, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’. 

People walk past a poster of the new Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" outside a theater in Silver Spring, Maryland (AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)

The authors of the study also couldn't ignore PG-13 rated ‘Terminator Salvation’ (2009), ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ (2011) and ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ (2011), ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ (2011).

"It's disturbing that PG-13 movies are filled with so much gun violence,"
study co-author and the director of the Annenberg Center's Adolescent Communication Institute, Dan Romer, said.

"We know that movies teach children how adults behave, and they make gun use appear exciting and attractive,"
he added.

A number of scientific studies have previously concluded that the mere presence of guns can increase aggression, a phenomenon dubbed the “weapons effect.”

"By including guns in violent scenes, film producers may be strengthening the weapons effect and providing youth with scripts for using guns," the authors of the study, published in the latest issue of the US Pediatrics journal, emphasize.  

They give an example when movies have served as a catalyst for violence. In July 2012, James Holmes bought a ticket to see the new Batman movie in Colorado. About 20 minutes after the show started, the 25-year-old left the theater and returned dressed in full tactical gear, equipped with several guns and a huge amount of ammunition. Holmes, who later identified himself to the police as ‘The Joker’, launched two canisters that emitted tear gas and began firing into the crowd, killing 12 and wounding 70 others.

"We do not draw a direct causal link to the recent rise in school and other public shootings, but the rise in gun violence in films certainly coincides with those events," Romer told AFP.

In theory, PG-13 rated movies come with the warning ‘Parents strongly cautioned’, and are supposed to feature less violence than R movies. Film ratings and guidelines are issued by the trade group the Motion Picture Association of America, which says that "violence in a PG-13 movie does not reach the restricted R category".

The rise in levels of violence in PG-13 films comes as access to films of all classifications becomes easier via the internet, making the monitoring of teens’ viewing all the more challenging.