President Donald Trump's shifting response to demands for meaningful action on gun violence seems to have settled on an unsuspecting industry: video game developers.
The White House will meet with members of the video game industry Thursday for discussion on the negative impact it believes violent video games have on young people.
The meeting comes after weeks of internal White House wavering on gun-related policy items, with the president endorsing a Democratic gun control wish list on live television, only to have the White House walk it back after Trump’s closed-door meeting with the National Rifle Association shortly thereafter.
This latest move, announced last week by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, appears to be off to a shaky start:
Industry leaders were caught off guard by the announcement, with the leading trade group, the Entertainment Software Association, saying in a statement shortly after that it had received no invitation to such an event. Planning since then has been described as haphazard. Industry executives and envoys and lawmakers on Capitol Hill were eventually contacted, but when they tried to get specific details out of the administration, they ran up against roadblocks.
Preparations for the discussion were delegated to White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short and Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp, but just a day before the meeting is slated to happen, no solid details have emerged.
By Wednesday morning, the full guest list was still unclear, but two sources with direct knowledge told The Daily Beast that conservative figure L. Brent Bozell, head of the Media Research Center and video-game critic, was set to attend the Thursday summit.
In the meantime, video game industry insiders are concerned the Trump administration is simply using the meeting as "stunt" and an effort to shift discussions away from gun control policy.
Industry and administration sources conceded that whatever meeting happens on Thursday, it is unlikely to yield concrete, effective policy or legislative measures. Gun control groups themselves framed the session as largely superficial to the larger debate.
“I think you only have to look at Canada,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “They see the same video games that Americans do. They get all the same cultural signals and they don’t have a problem with gun violence as we do. In the end it is not about video games.”
“Video games are plainly not the issue: entertainment is distributed and consumed globally, but the US has an exponentially higher level of gun violence than any other nation,” said the Entertainment Software Association, the industry’s leading trade group, said in a statement on Monday. The ESA said it will attend Thursday’s meeting in order “to have a fact-based conversation about video game ratings, our industry’s commitment to parents, and the tools we provide to make informed entertainment choices.”
Convincing Trump he is wrong will be a tough sell, especially considering that he has the backing of the National Rifle Association.
In the wake of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president, took aim squarely at the video game industry.
“There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people, through vicious, violent video games with names like ‘Bulletstorm,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Mortal Kombat,’ and “Splatterhouse,’” he said.
“Guns don’t kill people,” LaPierre declared. “Video games, the media, and Obama’s budget kill people.”