Effects of Exposure to Gun Violence in Movies on Children’s Interest in Real Guns

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Abstract

Importance

More US children die by accidental gun use than children in other developed countries. One factor that can influence children’s interest in guns is exposure to media containing guns.

Objective

To test whether children who see a movie containing guns will handle a real gun longer and will pull the trigger more times than children who see the same movie not containing guns.

Design, Setting, and Participants

One hundred four children aged 8 to 12 years recruited through advertisements were randomly assigned in pairs to watch a 20-minute PG-rated movie containing or not containing guns in a university laboratory. Children then played with toys and games in a room for 20 minutes while being video recorded. A cabinet in the room contained a real (disabled) gun with a sensor counting trigger pulls. Recordings were coded for the time spent holding the gun and in aggressive play. Data were collected from July 15, 2015, through January 1, 2016, and analyzed using generalized estimating equations (Tweedie log-link for time spent holding the gun; Poisson log-link for pulling the trigger).

Main Outcomes and Measures

The 2 main outcomes were time spent holding the gun and the number of trigger pulls. Control variables included sex, age, trait aggressiveness, exposure to violent media, interest in guns, and number of guns at home.

Results

Among the 104 study participants (62 boys [59.6%] and 42 girls [40.4%]; mean (SD) age, 9.9 [1.5] years), the adjusted median number of trigger pulls among children who saw the movie containing guns was 2.8 (interquartile range [IQR], 0.2-2.8) compared with 0.01 (IQR, 0.01-0.2) among children who saw the movie not containing guns (adjusted odds ratio, 22.3; 95% CI, 6.0-83.4; P < .001). The adjusted median number of seconds spent holding the gun among children who saw a movie containing guns was 53.1 (IQR, 35.5-53.1) compared with 11.1 (IQR, 10.7-16.7) among children who saw the movie not containing guns (adjusted odds ratio, 3.0; 95% CI, 0.9-9.9; P = .07). Qualitative analyses on 4 pairs from each condition found that children who saw the movie containing guns also played more aggressively and sometimes fired the gun at people (ie, self, partner, or passersby on street).

Conclusions and Relevance

Children in the United States frequently have access to unsecured firearms and frequently consume media containing guns. This experiment shows that children who see movie characters use guns are more likely to use guns themselves.

Trial Registration

clinicaltrials.gov Identifier NCT03220412

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