Protest sign after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton
Credit: Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto, Getty Images

Author Michael Arceneaux tackles the all-too-common conservative falsehood that video games are the cause of America’s mass shooting epidemic—rather than gun access, white supremacy, and toxic masculinity.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is what happens when a person decides to sell their decency for pennies on the dollar and assume the rest of us are as deprived of morality as they are. In the wake of the mass shooting in El Paso at the hands of a white nationalist, Patrick appeared on Fox News’s Fox & Friends Weekend to discuss the massacre and redirect its aim from the rightful targets. Unfortunately, instead of pointing blame for the tragedy where it belonged—a combination of racism, President Trump’s anti-Latinx and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and too easy access to assault rifles—Patrick teleported back in time to familiar tropes.

“This is the fourth shooting since I’ve been Lt. Governor and Gov. Abbott has been on watch,” Patrick explained. “I think it’s time for all of America to take a real close look, if we haven’t already, we should have, of where we are.”

Patrick then proceeded to cite “mental health” as one of the components in mass shootings—claiming that he “stayed up all night” trying to come up with solutions to the problem. Mental health experts have routinely noted that mental illness does not spur mass shootings. Not that Patrick actually gives a damn about mental health considering his position to repeal Obamacare.

After Patrick wasted time on that, he went on to state, “I say how long are we going to ignore it at the federal level—particularly where they can do something about the video game industry.” And, “In this manifesto that we believe is from the shooter, this is where he talks about living out his super soldier fantasy on Call of Duty. We know the video game industry is bigger than the movie and music industry combined, and there have been studies that says it impacts people.”

The shooter also sounded exactly like Trump, speaking of an immigrant-led “invasion” of the United States. Still, to Patrick, “We’ve always had guns and evil, but what’s changed is where we’ve seen this rash of shootings…I see a video game industry that teaches young people to kill.”

Naturally, before he engaged in this mindless diatribe, he offered “thoughts and prayers” to victims of a second mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

“Mental health experts have routinely noted that mental illness does not spur mass shootings. Not that Patrick actually gives a damn about mental health considering his position to repeal Obamacare.”

This is not the first time Patrick has invoked video games. Following the 2018 mass shooting in Sante Fe, Texas, Patrick blamed video games, along with other issues like abortion, the “broken family,” lack of religion in school curriculum, unarmed teachers, and too many entrances on school campuses.

But Patrick is not the only one perpetuating the “video games did it” angle.

On Monday, Trump declared, “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.”

There was also House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said, on a separate Fox News show, “We’ve watched from studies, shown before, what it does to individuals, and you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others.”

“Video games are an easy scapegoat,” said criminologist James Alan Fox, who is also a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, in an interview with the Washington Post. “They don’t lose votes by blaming the video-game industry. You can lose votes blaming the gun industry, which is why some people choose not to do that.”

Therein lies what frustrates me the most about all of this: that they still even bother with the pretense. They know it’s not video games causing mass shootings. Or queer people. Or trans folks. Or abortions. Or sodomy. Or marriage equality. Or “Old Town Road” replacing Mariah Carey’s “One Sweet Day” as the longest-running number-one single on Billboard’s Hot 100.

They know it’s too easy access to assault rifles. They know there are a lot of violent, angry white men in this country, and that those men go out and kill innocent children, women, and men in order to stoke fear and preserve white patriarchy. They know they buy those very assault rifles to do it.

And each time they do, those conservatives purchased by the gun manufacturing lobby don’t bat an eye. The same goes for the everyday gun shootings that could be successfully prevented with gun control. They don’t care because all that matters to them is money and power; proximity to that has, and always will, trump principle.

It doesn’t make their stances any less despicable, but it would be presented more honestly. We could finally stop having cyclical conversation about the roles video games do not play in mass shootings. We could go forgo bad acting from Republicans on the issue of mental illness. We could skip all those of those “thoughts and prayers,” too.

I want them to say it like they mean it: that they do not care if we live or die.

While they have a bad rap in GOP circles, to their credit, video games are a lot more fun than the game these politicians keep forcing us to play.

Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the newly released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.