At his town hall meeting in Chickasaw last week, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) met with a room full of constituents who wanted to know why Nicholas Cruz was able to massacre 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and what could be done to prevent future mass shootings.
Byrne discussed the shooter’s mental state, as well as the FBI’s lack of response to repeated warnings about him, but he quickly pivoted to the years-old conversation about violent media and their ability to incite violence in their consumers, an issue about which there is significant debate.
“It bothers me every time I see one of these video games, or one of these movies or television shows, that we’ve allowed to get violence to the point of where it’s a fantasy,” Byrne said. “Violence has been fantasized and that feeds into the immature minds of young men.”
President Donald Trump raised the same concern last week during a meeting with state lawmakers.
“We have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it. … We may have to talk about that also,” he said.
Cruz was evidently an avid player of violent video games. Last week, a neighbor told the Miami Herald that Cruz “escaped his misery” by playing violent video games.
“It was kill, kill, kill, blow up something, and kill some more, all day,” the neighbor said.
Byrne expressed that large media companies hold blame.
“We’ve got people who make billions of dollars in this country off of feeding that to our young people,” he said.
“I think that we’re going to have to have a hard look in Congress, and we already are, at what’s happening on all of these websites and all of these digital platforms like Google and Facebook and all of that,” Byrne said. “I think they have been irresponsible.”
Most notably, Byrne expressed what absolute free speech advocates fear more than anything.
“I think we do have a right in government to go to them and say ‘we’re going to regulate you so that you don’t harm American society and the American public,’” he said. “I do think there are things that we can legitimately, legally, and constitutionally do with some of these platforms that are basically putting stuff out there that’s like poison for young minds.”
The Supreme Court has decided that not all types of speech are guaranteed protection under the First Amendment, including obscenity, slander, and child pornography among others. Even so, Byrne acknowledged a tension between enacting such policies restricting violent media and the freedom of speech.
“I’m not for trampling first amendment rights any more than I’m for trampling second amendment rights,” he said.
Byrne discussed improving the NICS system (National Instant Criminal Background Check System), arming teachers who want to be armed and encouraging the FBI and other law enforcement to better share information as possible solutions, while arguing that he didn’t think stricter gun laws would have prevented the killing in Parkland.
Ultimately, Byrne said the problem is a societal and cultural one.
“We’re not talking about that because that is a symptom of the breakdown of American society, and we need to start rebuilding our society beginning with our families,” he told Yellowhammer.
“We’ve got to talk about how the glorification of violence, the fantasy of violence, is infecting young minds,” he said. “And it’s infecting young minds to the extent that some of them are willing to go off and do what this kid did.”
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