Was Adam Lanza an Anders Breivik Copycat? Why Experts Are Skeptical (+Video)

By Haq, Husna | The Christian Science Monitor, February 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

Was Adam Lanza an Anders Breivik Copycat? Why Experts Are Skeptical (+Video)


Haq, Husna, The Christian Science Monitor


New reports suggesting Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza was inspired by violent video games, as well as a desire to out-kill Norway mass shooter Anders Breivik, has added fuel to the firestorm over the role violent video games and copycat behavior play in mass shootings.

Law-enforcement officials speaking with CBS News say evidence found in Mr. Lanzas home including a trove of violent video games and newspaper clippings about the 2011 Norway mass shooting led them to deduce potential motives behind the Newtown, Conn., massacre that left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook late last year.

But criminal-justice experts say research does not support a link between violent video games and mass shootings such as the one Lanza carried out Dec. 14.

There is no research to support that violent video games are linked to violent behavior or to crime, says Scott Belshaw, a criminal-justice professor at the University of North Texas in Denton. Research does not substantiate that at all.

According to the report by two unnamed officials briefed on the Newtown shootings who spoke with CBS News, Lanza aspired to outdo Mr. Breivik, who hunted down and fatally shot 69 people at an annual summer camp of the Norwegian Labor Party's youth wing in July 2011. Lanza may have targeted Sandy Hook Elementary because it was the easiest target with the largest cluster of people, according to CBS News.

Investigators formulated this theory after finding news articles about the Norway shooting in the Lanza home and posited Lanza may have felt an urge to compete with Breivik. The reports suggest that Lanza wanted to exceed Breiviks body count, not that he was inspired by the extreme right-wing ideology of Breivik, who called himself a "Christian crusader."

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Investigators also found thousands of dollars worth of violent video games in the basement of the Lanza home, where Lanza would reportedly spend hours honing his shooting skills in a private gaming room with the windows blacked out. Officials speaking with PBSs "Frontline" say Lanza may have been inspired by these video games, since he changed the magazines of his weapons more frequently than needed.

Connecticut police have dismissed the report as speculation.

All of it is speculation. There is no basis to the CBS story, Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance said in a statement read on CNN. We have not established a motive. It's inaccurate," he added.

Experts in the criminal-justice community are similarly skeptical of ascribing violent behavior to video games.

At this point, there is not much evidence to support this belief, says Chris Ferguson, a professor of psychology at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. To most of the criminal-justice community, this is a dead issue.

For one, Dr. Ferguson notes, societal violence has been declining for the past 20 years while video game usage is rising. And countries that consume more violent video games than the US like South Korea and the Netherlands have lower rates of violence.

But, says Patrick Markey, a professor of psychology at Villanova University in Philadelphia, violent video games may have more of an affect on people with mental illness, like Lanza, than on the general population. …

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