Lawmakers Contemplate Violent Video Game Laws in Wake of School Shootings

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 by Michael Frongello
In June 2011, the Supreme Court struck down, on First Amendment grounds, a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to children. This scrutiny of video games has reemerged in the wake of the recent school shootings, including the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in which 26 people, including 20 children, were killed. Reports that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, 20, enjoyed playing violent video games like “Call of Duty has only intensified this scrutiny.
Some of the video game industries biggest organizations, including the International Game Developers Association and the Entertainment Consumers Association, have urged Vice President Joe Biden not to blame video game for the nation’s recent string of gun violence. Nonetheless, many state lawmakers are again taking aim at, and placing blame on, violent video games.
Last week, Connecticut Republican lawmaker DebraLee Hovey, who represents the district that includes Newtown, submitted a bill that called for a sales tax on all “Mature”-rated video games. Hovey wants the proposed ten percent sales tax on these games to go towards funding mental health education about “the danger of violent video games.”
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board gives the “Mature” rating to games that “contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.” These “Mature”-rated games, which include popular game franchises like “Call of Duty,” are not to be sold to any under the age of 17, but lawmakers like Hovey believe too many young children are still playing these games. Hovey commented, “In my mind we do not need to be glorifying violence… I think that putting a sin tax—and in my mind this is a sin tax—on the M-rated video games… will cause people to think about what they are actually purchasing.”
Other lawmakers have recently introduced bills directed at video game violence including a Missouri state representative, who called for a one percent sales tax on “Teen”- and “Mature”-rated games, and Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who introduced a bill that called for studies to examine the impact of violent games on children. President Barack Obama has also recently pushed for more research on the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.

Last week, Connecticut Republican lawmaker DebraLee Hovey, who represents the district that includes Newtown, submitted a bill that called for a sales tax on all “Mature”-rated video games.

On the other hand, the video game industry, which experiences annual domestic sales exceeding $10 billion, has consistently argued that video games do not make people violent. “The myth that video games cause violent behavior is undermined by scientific research and common sense. According to FBI statistics, youth violence has declined in recent years as computer and video game popularity soared. We do not claimed that the increased popularity of games caused the decline, but the evidence makes a mockery of the suggestion that video games cause violent behavior,” noted Michael Gallagher, the president of the Entertainment Software Association, which lobbies on behalf of the video game industry. Further, just this week House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi commented publicly that violent video games are not the reason for violence in America, point to data from research that has found no statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related killings.
This is not the first time the violent content of media has been blamed. Back in the 1950’s, Congress looked at whether some comic books were affecting juvenile delinquency, and some have argued that “The U.S. government did irreparable damage to the comic book industry” by using “faulty research to falsely blame juvenile delinquency and illiteracy on comic books,” and without some compelling evidence that violent video games have a role in mass shootings, the government should be cautious in imposing similar damage on the video game industry.
As the Supreme Court noted in its 2011 opinion, depictions of violence have never been subject to government regulation. Thus, the government probably needs to develop some compelling research before any substantial government regulations on violent video games can be implemented.