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  • 01.20.17

PG-13 Movies Contain More Gun Violence Than R-Rated Movies

But rarely any consequences.

PG-13 Movies Contain More Gun Violence Than R-Rated Movies
Still from The Dark Knight, 2008.

There is more gun violence in popular PG-13 movies than in the biggest R-rated movies, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. The study, which continues from a 2013 study on the same subject, found that gun violence continues to grow in movies deemed suitable for kids.

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“The increasing trend of gun violence in PG-13 movies that we detected in 2012 continues unabated,” said lead author Dan Romer. “We were interested in seeing if the trend might have stalled or even reversed.  Our findings suggest that Hollywood continues to rely on gun violence as a prominent feature in its highly popular PG-13 action-oriented films.”

As you can see from the chart, the rate of gun violence per hour in PG-13 movies equaled that of R-rated movies in 2012, and has shown no signs of stopping since. The reason that so much shooting and killing is allowed in movies aimed at a wider audience is that the consequences have been removed. Characters get shot, but there is no blood, and no suffering. One might wonder whether this protects children from the effects of seeing death on screen, or if it teaches them that shooting people isn’t really so bad.

“As a result, movie-going families are now undergoing an experiment in which children of any age can enter a theater to watch a PG-13 film in which the protagonists gain power, settle conflicts, and kill or are killed by lethal weapons,” says the report. “At the same time, tolerance for such fare is being heightened. The more parents watch these violent movies, the more they become desensitized to them and the less likely they are to prevent their children from watching them.”

The authors compare violence in movies with smoking and drinking. Research shows, they say, that showing smoking or drinking without also showing its consequences leads some adolescents to imitate the behaviors. Like it or not, there’s a reason that few movies these days show smoking. “Why would acceptance of gun violence be any different?,” say the authors.

In a 2014 study, also led by Romer, researchers looked at sex in movies, was well as violence. Specifically, they studied parental sensitization, and found that the more sexy or violent scenes a parent watched, the more likely they were to deem those scenes acceptable for kids. In fact, as they became more desensitized, they agreed that younger and younger kids should be able to see those movies.

Not that we ever see sex in kids movies, any more than we see smoking, drinking, or anything else that may upset or freak out the kids. Only violence is allowed, which makes one wonder about the priorities we have for our kids, and what kinds of behavior we are normalizing. It seems that guns continue to be acceptable anywhere in American life, no matter what the consequences may be.

About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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