After mass shootings in El Paso, Texas,and Dayton, Ohio, killed 31 people in less than 24 hours, Walmart is ordering its stores to take down violent video game displays. Some Republicans ― including the president ― have blamed video games for the bloodshed, despite no evidence that they influenced either attack.
“We’ve taken this action out of respect for the incidents of the past week, and this action does not reflect a long-term change in our video game assortment,” corporate spokesperson Tara House told HuffPost on Friday. “We are focused on assisting our associates and their families, as well as supporting the community, as we continue a thoughtful and thorough review of our policies.”
House did not elaborate on why Walmart is continuing to sell guns.
On Wednesday, an image circulated on social media of Walmart’s directive, which reads: “Immediate Action: Remove Signing and Displays Referencing Violence.”
The memo instructs stores to turn off video game display consoles showing graphic imagery, asking employees to focus in particular on Xbox and PlayStation units.
Hunting season videos playing in the Sporting Goods section are also to be switched off, and signage “referencing combat or any third-person shooter video games” is to be removed.
On Saturday, a gunman killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart. Police told The New York Times he posted a white supremacist manifesto online minutes before opening fire. The four-page hate-filled screed railed against “the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” referring to immigrants as “instigators” and warning against “race-mixing”.
Authorities are treating the case as domestic terrorism, and prosecutors will seek federal hate crime charges against the gunman.
On Sunday, another gunman opened fire in Dayton’s downtown district, leaving nine people dead and 27 injured. Police killed the shooter seconds into his rampage.
Though Walmart stopped selling assault rifles in 2015, it remains one of the nation’s largest retailers of guns and ammunition, a company spokesman told PolitiFact.
“It is too easy today for a troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence,” he said during a White House press conference. “We must stop or substantially reduce this, and it has to begin immediately.”
Describing video games as the gateway to mass shootings has become a talking point for members of the GOP who have sought to divert attention from calls for gun control and outcry over the president’s history of xenophobic and racist rhetoric that critics fear is simply a dog whistle to white supremacists.
Studies on the potential link between video games and aggressive behaviour have yielded mixed results, providing no absolute certainty that the pastime has substantial psychological impacts.
In February, Oxford University researchers reported that they “found no relationship between aggressive behaviour in teenagers and the amount of time spent playing violent video games.”
In 2016, Dr. Whitney DeCamp, a sociology professor at Western Michigan University, came to a similar conclusion, finding that “violent video games were a poor predictor of violent behaviour”.
However, in 2015, the American Psychological Association stated that research showed “a direct association between violent video game use and aggressive outcomes.” The following year, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautioned that more than 400 studies had found “a significant association between exposure to media violence and aggressive behaviour”.