In the early days of the sniper panic, my roommate expressed his fear that the sniper would turn out to be a Grand Theft Auto fanatic. He thought that if he or she was, then parents and the media and legislators would come down hard on the video game industry the same way that Hollywood was given a lot of trouble, post-Columbine. I had never gotten into Grand Theft Auto, which is a game that allows players the decadent pleasures of sex, drugs and, well, grand theft auto. The game, at its most basic, is about stealing (really cool) cars and getting into trouble with the 5-0s. I thought that his fear was legitimate, and may well have become a realization.

Paul Wong
David Horn

But John Muhammad and Lee Malvo were apprehended a few days later, and I have not heard any criticism directed toward Grand Theft Auto. This is particularly surprising because the latest installment of Grand Theft Auto, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was coincidently released this week. But GTA: VC has thus far been uninhibited by responsibility. The gun control issue has indeed resurfaced in the national discourse; it is in direct response to the snipers.

If I were Joe Lieberman, or another lawmaker who is intent on overextending the government’s ability to censor, I would make GTA: VC the scapegoat. Is it deserved? Maybe. The game is fantastic, and since my roommate brought it into my house Tuesday night it has been all consuming. I’ll admit that when I got in my own car last night my initial instinct was to peel out, crash into the Suburban parked across the street and steal the Suburban (all to the tune of 99 Lufballoons, or Bille Jean, which are some of the several featured ’80s pop favorites on GTA: VC). I didn’t, because I’m smart enough to avoid unnecessary collisions, old enough to respect other people’s property, poor enough to not be able to afford legal fees or body work and sober enough to realize all that. So is GTA: VC a bad influence? Maybe.

But Lieberman, et al. can criticize the video game industry and the film industry all they want; the bottom line is that the culture of violence in this country stems from the culture of guns. If they want a scapegoat they’ve got one; GTA: VC and its forefathers have a tough defense to make for themselves against accusations of “perceived realities” and “setting bad examples.” But their time would be much better spent teaming up with more sensible lawmakers who are willing to take a tough stance against the N.R.A. and the gun industry, which is the real source of the problem.

Ballistic fingerprinting, which requires gun manufacturers to encode bullets and shells for future identification, is something that a lot of people became aware of during the sniper panic. A lot of people also became aware that the N.R.A. and the rest of anti-gun control lobby are opposed to it (obviously!). Why in the world would law enforcement officials ever need to be able to trace a gun or ammunition back to an owner? What an intrusion of privacy and a trampling of the Second Amendment!)

The so-called “gun show loophole,” which allows the sale of firearms at gun shows without the cumbersome rigmarole of background checks (as necessitated by the Brady bill), is also something that the anti-gun control lobby is vehemently opposed to.

Tens of thousands of Americans die every year from gunshot wounds, and the powers that be are interested neither in methods of firearm identification, or in extending the sensible requirements of the Brady bill beyond gun shops to gun shows. GTA: VC may or may not make me want to steal cars, shoot coke and fire a Heckler and Koch G36 Compact at little old ladies, but if it does let’s make it so I can’t.

David Horn can be reached at hornd@umich.edu.

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