Ohio State University and the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed gun violence in top-grossing movies, finding that the frequency of gun violence had more than tripled in PG-13 films since 1985. The PG-13 rating was introduced in 1984.
Gun violence in PG-13 movies has rivaled the frequency of gun violence in R-rated movies since 2009, and actually surpassed it in 2012, according to the study.
Researchers examined a total of 945 films, drawing from the 30 top-grossing movies from 1950 through 2012. It focuses on sequences involving "the firing of hand-held guns with the intent to harm or kill a living being."
The study, which included animated films, did not judge whether the representations of gun violence were cautionary in message or not. It also analyzed only a snapshot of the most popular films at the box office, suggesting it said as much about audience tastes as Hollywood's output.
Critics of the ratings system have long held that it places too much emphasis on sexuality and too little on violence.
"We treat sex as R," said Daniel Romer, director of Annenberg's Adolescent Communication Institute, in a statement. "We should treat extreme gun violence as R."
The study found that PG-13 films on average had one 5-minute segment with gun violence in 1985. That rate has risen to more than three such segments per movie in recent years. The trend was roughly in tandem with the rate of gun violence in R-rated films over the same time period.
The Motion Picture Association of American declined to comment on the study.
The MPAA's definition of a PG-13 rated movie is that "there may be depictions of violence ... but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence."
The PG-13 rating cautions parents that the movie may include material inappropriate for children under 13. The R rating restricts people under the age of 17 from attending the movie without a parent or guardian.