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Study: Gun Violence Has Tripled in Movies

Tom Hanks is seen in a scene from the movie "Captain Phillips." A new study says gun violence in PG-13 movies has tripled since 1985. (Sony Pictures)
A new study shows that movie violence has more than doubled since 1950 and gun violence in films has tripled since 1985.

Researchers with the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that the increase comes largely in movies rated PG-13, which are not recommended for children under 13.

Trained coders identified the presence of violence in each 5-minute film segment for one-half of the top 30 films since 1950 and the presence of guns in violent segments since 1985, the first full year the PG-13 rating was used. PG-13–rated films are among the top-selling films and are especially attractive to youth.

The research found an overall annual increase in gun violence from 1985 to 2012, but the trend differed by movie rating. Among films rated G, for general audiences and PG movies which may contain some material not suitable for children, gun violence decreased slightly.

The rate of gun violence did not change for R-rated movies, which require children under 17 to be accompanied by a parent. Among films rated PG-13, gun violence increased. In fact, since 2009, PG-13 movies have contained as much or more violence than R-rated movies.

Many studies have shown that the mere presence of guns can increase aggression, an effect dubbed the “weapons effect.”

“Even if youth do not use guns, these findings suggest that they are exposed to increasing gun violence in top-selling films,” the researchers write. “By including guns in violent scenes, film producers may be strengthening the weapons effect and providing youth with scripts for using guns.”

Furthermore, the researchers say that because of the widespread availability of movies via the Internet and cable, the weapons effect could be amplified.