Kids who watch movies that depict people using guns are more likely play with firearms for longer periods of time and to pull the trigger, a new study suggests.
For the study, published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Ohio State University researchers had children ages 8-12 watch 20-minute clips from movies containing guns and other children watch movies in which no guns were used. After the movie clips, researchers recorded children playing for 20 minutes in a room with a cabinet full of toys, including a drawer that contained a disabled .38-caliber handgun equipped with a sensor to count trigger pulls.
While researchers did not see a noticeable difference in the number of kids who picked up and played with the gun between the two groups, they did notice a difference in how the kids played with the gun once it was handled. The children who watched the movie with characters firing guns played with the real firearm for longer periods of time and also pulled the trigger more often than children who had not seen a gun in their movie clip.
Researcher Brad Bushman told Reuters that he was not sure why the movies did not influence the number of kids who handled the gun but reiterated that the movies still seemed to influence behavior once the children started to handle it.
“But those who did handle the gun held it longer and pulled the trigger more times if they saw a movie with guns than if they saw a movie without guns,” Bushman said.
“Past research has shown that kids who see movie characters smoke are more likely to smoke themselves, and kids who see movie characters drink alcohol are more likely to drink alcohol themselves,” Bushman added. “Movies with alcohol have a warning, and movies with cigarettes also have a warning, and I think movies with guns should have a warning too.”
Out of 104 children, who were split off into pairs for the experiment, around 83 percent of them found the handgun in the cabinet drawer, and one or both children in 22 of the pairs handled the gun. Only 14 pairs of children alerted a research assistant when they found the firearm.
Researchers did note their experiment had its limitations, including a small sample size and the fact that only one firearm was available in the playroom.
While Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis argued in a companion editorial that condemning media violence and implementing stricter gun control laws would likely have little to no effect on children’s exposure to gun violence, he did say the study clearly showed how important proper gun storage can be in preventing unintentional shootings.
“Prior studies have shown that safe storage of guns is associated with a 75% reduction in the risk of firearm suicide and unintentional shootings among youths who are younger than 20 years,” Christakis said. “Intervention programs to increase the safe storage of firearms are effective, even in rural areas where hunting and using firearms is a regular part of the culture.”