As authorities continued to sift through details of the tragic school shootings in Connecticut, industry figures pressured Washington leaders for solutions, including strict gun control and a curb on violence in the media, hoping that the incident would mark a turning point in a culture growing all too accustomed to such rampages.
Meanwhile, several lawmakerscalled for a re-examination of violence in movies and videogames, and their impact on teenagers and young men, even though the investigation as to the assailant’s motives was still ongoing.
Calling for a national commission to examine violence, including in the media, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said on “Fox News Sunday” that he had “spent enough time on this question of violence in the entertainment culture to reach this conclusion, that the violence does cause vulnerable young men to be more violent. It doesn’t make everyone more violent, but it is a causative factor in some cases. We have got to ask the entertainment industry, ‘What are you going to do to try to calm that down?’ ”
Other political figures, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), also called for a study of the impact of media violence. Hickenlooper said on CNN that the depiction of assault weapons in film might have a direct connection to those with mental instability who go on a rampage.
There was a sense that the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., may actually lead to a serious re-examination of the nation’s gun laws, in contrast to multiple past rampages such as those at Virginia Tech, at a Tucson strip mall, and in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on President Obama to make tightening of gun laws his top priority, saying, “We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership — not from the White House and not from Congress.”
Rupert Murdoch said, via Twitter, “Nice words from POTUS on shooting tragedy, but how about some bold leadership action?” He asked, “When will politicians find courage to ban automatic weapons? As in Oz after similar tragedy.”
MPAA chairman Chris Dodd, Lieberman’s former colleague as a senator from Connecticut, attended a candlelight vigil at the Washington Monument on Friday with his younger daughter, and told Politico on the issue of gun violence, “When are we going to learn?”
Some commentators, like David Frum, a conservative, challenged the National Rifle Assn.
“I’ll accept no lectures about ‘sensitivity’ on days of tragedy like today from people who work the other 364 days of the year against any attempt to prevent such tragedies,” Frum wrote on the Daily Beast.
There was pressure from many of the president’s industry supporters to take action, particularly after White House spokesman Jay Carney on Friday said that he “did not think” that “today is (the) day” to talk about gun policy.
Asked singer John Legend, who campaigned for Obama and has been an advocate for education, “I know everybody’s sending prayers out now, but when will we get beyond prayers and get to real, effective action?”
Eva Longoria, a co-chair of Obama’s presidential campaign, said via a Tweet, “How can a 20yr old with a history of mental problems have access to guns!”
It remains to be seen whether the tragedy will lead to organized action within the entertainment community, as has happened on other issues after national and international disasters.
Andy Spahn, political adviser to Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, said the conversation that he has heard among donors and supporters in the industry has been on the order of, “We hope that maybe this will be a tipping point.”
“I have had calls from donors expressing frustration and saying, ‘What can we do?’ but not, ‘Here’s what we are doing,” Spahn said. “It is being discussed.”
Some of the president’s supporters and donors linked to an online petition on WeThePeople.gov calling for just such a conversation. Others linked to Demandaplan.org, a petition site set up after the Aurora shootings to demand a federal plan for dealing with gun violence. It was set up by Mayors Against Gun Violence, the org formed by Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
Networks and studios altered plans in response to the tragedy, as scenes of grieving parents played out on news channels.
“Saturday Night Live” diverted from its typical satirical opening to feature members of the New York City Children’s Chorus singing “Silent Night,” while Paramount postponed its Saturday premiere of Tom Cruise starrer “Jack Reacher.” Twentieth Century Fox also cancelled festivities for Saturday’s premiere of family pic “Parental Guidance” because of Friday’s deadly shooting spree.
Michael Moore linked to an online pirated version of “Bowling for Columbine,” his Oscar-winning documentary about the aftermath of the 1999 rampage at a Littleton, Colo., high school. “I said what I had2 say in 2002,” he wrote on Twitter. “Nothing’s changed. U can watch this pirated version 4 free.”
In recent years, the issue of gun control hasn’t drawn nearly the interest among industry activists as issues such as LGBT rights, education and poverty. In the 1980s and ’90s, Gregory Peck and even Bob Hope lobbied for gun control, but they were countered by Charlton Heston, whose tenure as president of the National Rifle Assn. from 1998 to 2003 helped raise the profile of gun rights, and may have only furthered the org’s strength in convincing politicians that an attempt to enact strict firearms laws would be a political liability.
Showbiz has had to grapple with criticism of violence depicted onscreen, as happened after the Columbine shootings, although efforts to regulate violence on TV or videogames have not gotten anywhere in Congress, and have been turned back by the courts on First Amendment grounds. In 2011, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent videogames to minors. The game industry, which has long challenged the link between violent depictions onscreen and violent behavior, argued that its voluntary labeling system worked.
Nevertheless, after the Aurora shootings, Harvey Weinstein called for improved gun-control laws, as well as a filmmakers summit to address violence in movies. But as happened after Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Tucson, the urgency faded.