Arkansas-based retail giant Walmart ordered managers to remove ads and displays for violent video games from stores today out of respect for the victims in last weekend's El Paso, Texas shooting that killed 22 people.
The move comes as debate rekindled the settled argument over the role of video games in mass shootings.
"There is no direct evidence that violent video game play or other violent media consumption plays a role in extreme acts of violence like mass shootings," said Dr. Marc Sestir, a professor of social psychology at the University of Central Arkansas. "There is a common sense idea there that simulated violence could lead to real violence."
Dr. Sestir came of age around the time of the Columbine massacre. In the 20 years since, the many high-profile shootings has led to plenty of high-profile studies.
That common sense idea is part of the reason Walmart removed some video game displays from stores. It's a reason political leaders like President Trump brought it up this week. But experts like Dr. Sestir say they are misreading the data.
"There's a considerable amount of evidence. There's some dispute, but there's a lot of evidence that shows that violent video game-play and violent media consumption in general can cause increases in aggressive tendencies," he said, saying there's a big difference between gamers getting into fights in real life and getting real guns and shooting a school or store.
"I think people do intuitively recognize that simulating being aggressive could produce some problems, could elicit some aggressive tendencies," Dr. Sestir said. "It's just that the data does not support that it is reaching that far."
In a statement, Walmart says the in-store changes will not reflect a long-term change in the video game assortment. Expect the same violent games to remain on sale.
The company already announced this week there are no plans to stop selling weapons. Dr. Sestir says not to expect much to change by taking down displays.
"It's possible that might be beneficial overall. You might see a small reduction in aggressive tendencies among customers," he said. "But it's extremely unlikely it's going to do anything to curtail unfortunately these mass shooting events."