Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan channels Tipper Gore in questioning video games’ role in mass shootings

Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan gives his annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday, Jan. 26, 2018. (Photo by Alaska Senate Majority/Flickr)

Openly drawing comparison to Tipper Gore, Sen. Dan Sullivan responded to questions on school shootings and gun violence today by wondering what role violent video games and violent media have in “poisoning the minds of young children.”

The comments were made in a news conference after Sullivan delivered his annual address to the Alaska legislature, joking that he knew his comments about the role “culture” has in mass shootings would draw parallel to Tipper Gore’s much-mocked efforts to tackle violence in mass media.

“I think sometimes when you raise it you almost get ridiculed, it’s kind of like, oh boy, here comes the modern day Tipper Gore,” he said in the meeting with reporters. “I think we have to talk about that.”

He asked the assembled press to think about what has changed over the last 40 years that would have contributed to the seeming rise in mass shootings (though some would suggest that shootings aren’t really more frequent, just more deadly than 40 years ago).

“The restrictions on gun rights in some ways you could say they’ve gotten less lenient or more lenient. There’s an argument on both sides of that. You can’t own automatic weapons anymore so in some ways they’ve gotten more restrictive, for example,” he said. “But there’s no doubt that when you look at what’s really changed in our culture and why we’re having this debate, is that violence in video games, violence in movies, the hardening of our culture, kids who are raised on violent videos where what you’re literally doing is you score more points when you very graphically and realistically kill people. You know, if we don’t have that as part of the discussion I think we’re really missing something.”

When pressed by reporters on the accessibility of guns and the lack of research into gun violence, which is in part due to a ban preventing the Centers for Disease Control from funding research into gun violence called the Dickey amendment, Sullivan said the research and prevention of mass shootings should be all-inclusive. The failures to address the warning signs of the Parkland shooter should be studied right along with the impact of violent media, he said.

“Are we poisoning the minds of young children by having them watch movies and video games that glorify killing people?” he said. “Just turn on any movie, those didn’t exist 20 or 30 years ago. Turn on any video game. … If you’re playing Call of Duty or whatever for 15 years as a kid, which is all about how many people you can kill and are very graphic, you don’t think that has an impact on the way our kids are thinking?”

Sullivan frequently referred to Tipper Gore throughout the news conference, at one point commenting that this might be his “Tipper Gore press conference,” but said she may have had a point.

“I think when she was raising these issues 30 years ago and got ridiculed that was a missed opportunity,” he said.

Sullivan didn’t comment on just what about violent media should be studied and what potential changes might be in order, and the reporters didn’t ask.


Alaska’s different

Much of Sullivan’s discussion about gun control had to do with its impacts on Alaska, which he said has challenges different than the Lower 48 when it comes to guns, particularly around hunting and self-defense in the wilderness. He said he’d oppose a blanket ban on gun ownership for people under 21.

“Look, we talk about Alaska being unique in a whole host of areas. I believe with regard to the Second Amendment, the use of guns and firearms in our literally almost daily life, we are unique and I keep that strongly in mind,” he said. “For example, I have serious doubts on this idea that the president has proposed about not allowing gun ownership until you’re 21. To me, that would not work in Alaska.”

(Alaska also happens to be the leading state when it comes to gun deaths with 23.3 mostly suicide gun deaths per 100,000 residents recorded in 2016. The national average that year is about 12 per 100,000.)

Sullivan said that he believes much of the regulation on guns should be left to the states. He said regulations that work for a state like Connecticut won’t work in Alaska and vice versa. He said suggestions like arming teachers, which he said he has his doubts about, should also be a discussion left to states and local communities.

“This also an area for state action, right? There are certain constitutional requirements and rights that every American has in every state, but different states can also look at this in different ways and take action in ways they think are appropriate for their constitutents,” he said. “I imagine that the state of Alaska, the Legislature here, will also be looking at some of these issues as well. The idea of something being fully top down from the feds? I don’t think that’s how it’s going to work out.”

Sullivan did say, however, that he’d support stronger background checks.

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