The mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder have everyone once again asking, “Why?” There is no one-size-fits-all explanation for gun violence, but a University of Pennsylvania study, done before these tragedies, comes up with clear evidence that such attacks are linked to televised gun violence. The study found that the number of actual gun homicides parallels those depicted on TV. More troubling, both are on the upswing.

Lead scientists of the study, Patrick E. Jamieson and Daniel Romer, both from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC), compared national gun violence to other forms of violence in 33 popular television dramas from the years 2000 to 2018. They also looked at the depiction of gun homicides in different age groups.

“Just as the entertainment media contributed to the uptake of cigarettes among vulnerable youths, our findings suggest that it may be doing the same for guns.”

Their findings are sobering. The analysis showed that overall, during two decades, both gun violence on television and real-life gun homicides increased by 81 percent. For the population between the ages of 15 to 24, the findings are even more startling: the increase both on television and in life rose to 93 percent. Gun violence in films has been shown to have a similar effect.

Does this mean that television gun homicides trigger actual gun murders? The scientists admit their study doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship. However, it does point to a correlation between the two factors, in the same way that rates of gun violence are higher among states with fewer gun laws. More research will be needed to clarify this relationship, the researchers say.

“Our research found that gun use has substantially increased from 2000 to 2018 on primetime TV dramas in the US, a trend that paralleled the use of firearms in homicides,” said Romer, APPC research director, in a statement.

“Just as the entertainment media contributed to the uptake of cigarettes among vulnerable youths, our findings suggest that it may be doing the same for guns,” he added. Violent video games have also been linked to an uptick in violent acts.

Catching this problem early is the best defense. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology (AACAP), there are ways parents can help young people avoid an overload of television violence. Here are some of the organization’s suggestions:

  • Pay attention to the programs your children are watching and watch some with them.
  • Point out that although the actor has not actually been hurt or killed, such violence in real life results in pain or death.
  • Refuse to let children see shows known to be violent, and change the channel or turn off the TV set or computer when offensive material comes on, with an explanation of what is wrong with the program.
  • Disapprove of violent episodes in front of the children, stressing the belief that such behavior is not the best way to handle a problem.
  • Help reduce peer pressure among friends and classmates to embrace violent television shows by contacting other parents and agreeing to enforce similar rules about the length of time and type of programs the children may watch.
  • The study is published in PLOS ONE.