During his media event yesterday to roll out his “comprehensive” plan to address gun violence, Barack Obama didn’t mention the entertainment industry at all, despite hints from Joe Biden that films, television, and video games would all be on the table for discussion. Instead, another Democrat has picked up that issue in the House. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) has introduced legislation that would require all retailers to prevent the sale of violent video games to minors:
Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) introduced a bill this week that would ban the sale of violent video games to minors.
The Supreme Court struck down a similar California law in 2011, ruling that the restriction violated the constitutional right to free speech.
Matheson’s Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act, H.R. 287, would make it illegal for anyone to ship, distribute, sell or rent a video game that does not bear a label from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) on the age-appropriateness of the game.
The ESRB, an industry self-regulatory group, already assigns age-based labels to video games, ranging from “C” for early childhood, “E” for everyone, “T” for teen, “M” for mature, and “AO” for adults only, but the system is entirely voluntary.
While I’m pleased that we’re finally getting around to talking about the culture that glorifies mindless violence, this is yet another piece of window dressing. Passing laws enforcing ratings only makes government more expensive and does nothing to address the actual issue of violence glorification. If anything, it gives restricted games even more cachet than before. We will not solve the real underlying issues by passing legislation that infringes on either the First or Second Amendments, but by forcing the purveyors of violent entertainment to address market forces that should — if we can succeed in changing the culture — punish them through poor sales and bad reputations.
Besides, this has already been addressed once by the Supreme Court, as The Hill points out:
“Like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the court’s opinion.
He said that California’s argument that it could restrict speech directed at children is “unprecedented and mistaken.”
“No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm … but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed,” Scalia wrote.
Exactly. The power of bad ideas can only be lessened by the expression of better ones. If we start going down a path of censorship, then what other ideas will get restricted as unacceptable for children? Maybe religion, free market economics, and so on. It’s up to parents to raise their children and teens and exercise some control on what comes into the house, whether that’s entertainment or anything else.
Joe Scarborough disagreed on today’s Morning Joe, mistakenly asserting that the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on the First Amendment issues surrounding video game restrictions in a conversation with Tom Brokaw. However, at least Scarborough and Brokaw bothered talking about the culture of violence, something Obama couldn’t be bothered to do.
Government can’t solve every problem for us, and in a free society, we shouldn’t want it try, either.
Update: Fixed the headline.