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Playing The Blame Game

Wesley T. Chan

A friend of mine was distressed about the recent rash of parents and school administrators who harass students who play violent video games. Such games, like Quake and Doom, were favorites of the two disturbed gunmen who massacred twelve of their fellow students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The games are not to blame, my friend stated; the deranged gunmen were. Teachers and parents should not force students to seek counseling because they enjoy Quake or Doom, he argued.

Perhaps he’s right about the video games. But what scares me goes much deeper than our sudden national aversion to violent video games. I’m frightened that we’re now out on a relentless quest to find blame, pointing our fingers at anything we suddenly decide we don’t like or want.

We’re a nation bent on finding “answers,” and nothing demonstrates this more than our reaction to the recent school shooting in Colorado. The students at Columbine want answers. The owner of the pizza store where the two gunmen worked wants answers. All of America wants answers to the question of how such a tragedy could happen and what could have been done to prevent it. All too often, we find our answers in blame. We point our fingers in the hope that we will find what could have prevented the tragedy, in the hope that if we eliminate it, we will again be safe and continue living the way we did before.

And boy, are we good at it. The media have taken the cue. Every TV news show is now airing a piece on who or what’s to blame in the recent Littleton tragedy. CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a segment describing why the parents of the school shooting in West Paducah, Kentucky, are suing the publishers of Doom, Quake, and other “violent” computer games. The show alleged that the entertainment industry was encouraging our kids to act out their aggression on others, leading to the shootings in Kentucky and Colorado. Dateline NBC, in their analysis of the Littleton shooting, aired a story on the “gun problem” in our country. Using “hidden camera footage,” they showed how easy it was for any teenager to buy weapons like the ones used at Littleton at gun shows held all over the country.

Lawmakers are now introducing an unprecedented number of gun control bills to demonstrate that they too can point their fingers at someone or something in order to win over public opinion. Now, people are even starting to condemn the Internet, claiming it’s an unregulated repository of dangerous information, giving children access to bomb-making schematics and other hazardous material difficult to obtain elsewhere.

Casting blame has become our new national pastime. Every time I read a newspaper, I find more people pointing their fingers at someone. It doesn’t take a tragedy like Littleton for us to do it either. The city of Chicago recently sued gun manufacturers for $433 million, blaming Smith and Wesson and other corporations for their alleged role in causing violent crime in the city. Several other cites filed similar lawsuits soon afterwards. People are suing the tobacco industry at an alarming rate, claiming that the industry was responsible for their loved ones’ illness or death. What’s next? Will alcoholics sue the beer industry because their spouse left them because of their drinking? The only people who profit from our obsession for assigning blame are our lawyers.

Some may claim that our enthusiasm for assigning blame is an appropriate reaction to an unexpected tragedy, necessary in order for us exert control in an otherwise chaotic world. Others assert that our tendency to point fingers is even beneficial to society, since it keeps irresponsible individuals and negligent industries in check. While these are valid arguments, still we’ve become too aggressive in our national quest to assign blame in hopes that we will be safer or that things will be the way they were before. Filing lawsuits and banning violent video games won’t solve all our problems. As long as there are people full of hate and anger like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the two Littleton gunmen, tragedies will continue to happen, no matter how many industries we sue or gun control laws we pass. Smokers will continue to get sick and perhaps even die as a result. Alcoholics will continue to face repercussions for their actions unless they get help. Like Klebold and Harris, these people make choices and suffer the consequences. They are responsible, at least in part, for their actions. Trying to find other people and industries to blame won’t change that.