The new year brings an update to the very old debate about gun violence in movies: On Wednesday, an article in the journal Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, reported that portrayals of gun violence in movies rated PG-13 continued to approximate those in R-rated films through 2015. The journal had previously reported that gun use in PG-13 films rapidly escalated through 2012, as violent gun incidents in the supposedly softer films surpassed those in R-rated movies.
The lines crossed in 2010, according to a count by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. In that year, by their tally, PG-13 films had 1.76 episodes of gun violence per hour, while R-rated films logged 1.52 such encounters. R-rated films actually had more gun use than PG-13 movies in 2014 and 2015; but the incident count in the PG-13 films has been rising, to 2.63 per hour in 2015, when the hourly count for R-rated films hit 2.71.
“The increasing trend of gun violence in PG-13 movies that we detected in 2012 continues unabated,” Dan Romer, the Annenberg center’s research director, said in a statement. Romer and his colleagues acknowledged that any links between viewing and violent behavior were not fully understood. “Until we learn more, pediatricians should consider advising parents to be cautious about exposing their children to the gun violence in PG-13 movies,” the researchers wrote in Pediatrics. The Classification and Rating Administration, which is overseen by the MPAA, tends to assign a softer rating when incidents of gun violence are bloodless or done in an unrealistic, comic-book style. But critics have questioned whether divorcing gun violence from portrayal of its consequences might somehow cause harm.
Chris Ortman, a spokesman for the MPAA, said the ratings board has constantly updated its standards to provide parents with information they need in making decisions about movie-watching. “This system has withstood the test of time because, as American parents’ sensitivities change, so too does the rating system,” he said in a statement.
“Elements such as violence, language, drug use, and sexuality are continually re-evaluated through surveys and focus groups to mirror contemporary concern and to better assist parents in making the right family viewing choices,” Ortman added.