Children who view movies with gun violence are more interested in guns and violence than their peers who do not have this exposure, a recent experiment showed. The 104 experiment participants, who ranged in age from 8 to 12 years, were in pairs; 1 child in each pair watched a 20-minute clip of a PG-rated film that showed guns and the other saw the same film, but the scenes with guns were edited out.
After viewing the film, participants went to a room containing a cabinet stocked with toys, such as Legos, Nerf guns, and games where they could play with anything they wished. One of the cabinet drawers contained a real semiautomatic 9-mm handgun that was modified so that it could not fire. The child could still pull the trigger, however, and the gun had a sensor to count the number of times he or she did so.
The children were given 20 minutes to play in the room, without adult supervision and with the door closed, but were told that an adult (a research assistant) was just outside the door if they needed any help or had questions. Parents and the experimenters watched the children via a hidden camera in an adjacent room.
Of the 52 pairs of participants, 43 pairs found the gun; 14 pairs gave the gun to the research assistant or told him or her about it. In 22 pairs, 1 or both participants handled the gun. Compared with those who saw the movie in which images of guns were edited out, children who saw the movie with guns played with the real gun longer: 53.1 seconds versus 11.1 seconds. Those exposed to guns in the movie also pulled the trigger more often: 2.8 times versus 0.01 times. Boys pulled the trigger more frequently than girls, but boys and girls spent about the same amount of time handling the gun.
Further analysis showed that children who saw the movie that included guns also played more aggressively and sometimes fired the gun at others (Dillon KP, et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171:1057-1062).
THOUGHTS FROM DR. BURKE
The description of children playing with guns in this study is haunting and anxiety provoking. In an accompanying editorial, Drs. Christakis and Rivara from the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Washington, make a realistic, practical observation (JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(11):1040-1041). To paraphrase, in the United States real guns are out there, and changing that is a difficult, long-term task. Depictions of gun violence also are out there, in movies, TV, and, especially, video games, and the trend is toward more, not less, exposure among children. With those realities, these writers suggest that our focus as pediatricians should be on promoting safe storage of guns in the home, an evidence-based, effective way to reduce risk of childhood unintentional gunshot injury and firearm suicide.