POSTED: Saturday, February 16, 2013 - 3:30pm
UPDATED: Saturday, February 16, 2013 - 8:18pm
ATLANTA (CNN) — Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America and a former U.S. senator, dismissed as "predictable" on Friday the idea that movies play a role in spurring gun violence and instead said the nation's mental health systems should be the subject of attention in the quest to reduce gun deaths.
"It's sort of predictable, in a way, and if you go back over the years, there were people who suggested that comic books were the reason before any of this existed," he said at the National Press Club. "So there's been - if you go back and look at the history, any time one of these things happens, there's kind of a lurching from time to time to suggest that this is the root cause of the problems."
He was responding to a question about the National Rifle Association's criticism of the movies and broader entertainment field, which the group's executive vice president described in December as "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people."
"We have blood-soaked films out there like 'American Psycho,' 'Natural Born Killers.' They're aired like propaganda loops on Splatterdays and every single day," Wayne LaPierre said in a statement one week after a gunman shot dead 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
Dodd was raised in Connecticut and said his father, also a U.S. senator, "was very involved in these issues."
"Connecticut is now the seventh largest producer of guns - we were No. 1 in the country for many years with the Colt and the Winchester and the like, but if you were to ask me where I think we need to be focusing a lot of our attention, it is in the mental health space," he said.
He noted his work on the Mental Health Parity Act, which required health insurers provide access to mental health care alongside other types of treatment.
"While there's much more pyrotechnics around guns and about media, my hope is ... if we don't do anything else, to (act to) finally put some meaningful resources into the scourge of mental health," he said.
Representatives from the motion picture association and other entertainment groups met with Vice President Joe Biden and the gun violence group President Barack Obama appointed after the Newtown shooting. The group also met with the NRA and other gun rights advocacy groups, gun control proponents and mental health advocates.
A CNN/Time/ORC International Poll in mid-January found 37% of Americans believe the influence of popular culture is the primary cause of gun violence. An equal number attributed it to the ways parents raise their children and 23% cited the availability of guns.
The NRA has not focused on the role of movies, video games and other media since the December statement, but has called for making the current background check system more functional, including increasing the reporting of individuals with mental health issues that would make them unsuitable gun owners.
As part of the December statement, LaPierre unveiled a School Shield program that would put armed security officers or police officers into schools as a line of defense against gun violence.
His comments on the entertainment industry were scathing at that announcement. He cited movies, video games and music videos that the producers "have the nerve to call ... entertainment."
"But is that what it really is? Isn't fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?" he asked. "In a race to the bottom, many conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty right into our homes."