07/20/2012 02:41 pm ET | Updated Sep 19, 2012

The Dark Knight Shooting : The Violence And Kids Connection

Let's imagine the horrific scene of the Aurora, Colorado midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. You're sitting in an open theater and someone begins shooting at you. You are now an open target for a crazed maniac with an automatic weapon. Let them call it what they want -- Rep. Louie Gohmert from Texas said it was a result of "ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs." -- but here we have another example of a gun massacre. To blame? According to CNN, a graduate school dropout and at least four guns -- an "AK type" rifle, a shotgun and two handguns.

Just last night my son watched the first Dark Knight. (He saw Raiders of The Lost Ark and wanted to fight the Nazis as a result.) "I want to watch the second one," he told us. Maybe on your 13th birthday, we said. Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker -- too violent. I've never been a believer that violent movies are the direct -- and only -- cause of violent and aggressive behavior. Yet, after this incident, I can't help but revisit my thoughts. A 2008 study on "Media and Risky Behavior" published in Children and Electronic Media said there was a strong connection:

Children who had just watched the violent movie were rated much higher on physical assault and other types of aggression. Other experiments have shown that exposure to media violence can increase aggressive thinking, aggressive emotions, and tolerance for aggression, all known risk factors for later aggressive and violent behavior.

But there is a difference between a boy (say, my brother at the age of 8) who walks out of a movie (say, Rocky) wanting to punch his sister (say, me) and a crazed man with an automatic rifle shooting at innocent people in a movie theater. Does this mean we limit all violent movies altogether for our children (go with me here) because those children will one day grow up with the propensity to murder? Maybe not. But isn't there something we can learn from it?

The time of the movie can't be to blame. Midnight movie showings have been a popular spot for kids since theaters started screening The Rocky Horror Show in the 1970-80s. The Huffington Post's Lisa Belkin's kids bought their tickets more than a month ago. My neighbor told me about how she brought her 13-year-old son to the midnight showing of Spiderman. And as we all know, there have been other madmen with guns -- The Montclair, NJ post office massacre, Columbine, CO,. the Long Island Railroad shooter, or the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords. We've walked away from these horrific incidents knowing little about the killer, that gun control laws weren't going to change and that we didn't know who to blame. But do we need to take a look at the trailers for The Dark Knight itself? Or the kinds of violent images that make us less sensitized as a culture?

Writes Eric Niller of Discovery News:

Some observers are wondering about the film's content and whether it played a role in the suspect's motives, especially since the lead villain in the film and the shooter both were masked. The trailer for "The Dark Knight Rises" has been playing in heavy rotation on television for the past several weeks, and critics of the film have themselves been threatened with violence, according to The New Yorker.

It leaves us asking many questions about ourselves, violence and, as parents, the influence of it on our kids. Are they connected to each other -- or to some other outside factor? Is there a pattern? For now, I'm going to hug my kids. Pray for victims of last night's shooting and think about the influence of violence on my son's life. I can't help but not.