Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Grand Theft Auto IV Didn't Drive an 8 Year-Old to Murder

Robert Rath | 28 Aug 2013 12:05
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Last week, a boy in a small Louisiana town shot his 87 year-old grandmother in the back of the head as she watched television. The town was Slaughter, Louisiana. The woman's name was Marie Smothers. The gun was a .38 caliber pistol she owned. Her grandson, whose identity has been withheld, is eight years old. Shootings like this are an all-too common tragedy, but it probably wouldn't have been more than a local news story except that before shooting his grandmother, the boy was playing Grand Theft Auto IV.

Predictably, the media focused on games as the cause, as they often have before. The fact that these arguments make little sense when judged on their logical merit fell by the wayside. Normally in the games press, our instinct during a time like this is to bunker down, not fight back, comment on the story and wait until it blows over. I'm tired of doing that. I want to show you the arc of this media frenzy, from gunshot to closing, as a record of how the press jumps to conclusions and spins its own narrative in the vacuum following a tragedy.

Let's Remember What Happened Here

As we discuss this case, I want you to remember that we're talking about real people. Marie Smothers was a woman with four grandchildren who, according to her neighbors, enjoyed cooking. Neighbors would sometimes bring her groceries. Her family must now deal with her loss and sort through her belongings. I can't imagine the anguish that her grandson feels, and will continue to feel, every day for the rest of his life. People won't, on the whole, be able to understand the guilt and regret he will carry until he's as old as the grandmother that was taken from him.

I am trying my best not to speculate on personal matters this case. There has been enough speculation already, from every talking head imaginable, and not enough understanding that at the center of it all is a family whose orbit has permanently changed.

The Child Should've Never Had Access to the Gun

This case turns on the child's access to a loaded .38 revolver, not to Grand Theft Auto IV. Anyone who disputes that has something to gain by claiming otherwise, whether it's viewership or support for a moral crusade. While I don't like the idea of an 8 year-old paying Grand Theft Auto, it's undeniable that the gun's presence is what allowed this crime to occur. No matter what effect you believe games have on young children, without a loaded firearm there would've been no shooting.

Unsecured firearms should always be considered a danger to children, especially when they are kept loaded. This is doubly true for models like a .38 revolver that generally do not have a safety catch. Children should never, under any circumstances, be left unsupervised in the presence of firearms. In fact, 27 states have passed Child Access Protection (CAP) laws making it illegal to store a firearm in a place that children can reach them. Louisiana does not have CAP laws on the books, though its neighbors Mississippi and Texas do. In fact, had the event occurred in Texas Ms. Smothers would've committed a Class C misdemeanor by allowing her grandchild access to a readily dischargeable firearm, upgraded to a Class A misdemeanor because the child then used it to kill or injure another person. (In other words, most states in this instance would rule that the fault lay with the victim's negligent firearm storage, not the child, and certainly not whatever videogame the child was playing beforehand.

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