Legislating Violent Video Games: Why It Doesn't Work
A Missouri lawmaker is proposing an additional sales tax on violent video games in an attempt to curb future school shootings like the one in Newtown, CT. It’s a bad idea.Republican Representative Diane Franklin’s bill would impose a 1% sales tax on any game rated Teen or above by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, with the money raised going toward “treatment of mental health conditions associated with exposure to violent video games.” Unfortunately for Representative Franklin, even though her party controls both the Missouri House and Senate, her bill is doomed to fail for a number of reasons.
1) The definition of “violent video games” is incredibly vague, just saying it’ll apply to any game rated T or above by the ESRB. That includes such bloodbaths as Dance Central 3 and the Sims and Guitar Hero franchises. I shudder to think of the murderous rage in a person’s heart after they fail to 5-star Through The Fire And The Flames on Expert. Leaving it so vague means it will either be impossible to enforce, or will unfairly levy a tax on games that are not, in fact, violent.
2) Franklin fails to consider the most prevalent element in violent video games finding their way into children’s hands: parents. Many times, as has been documented over and over, many times a parent or guardian will buy a game that obviously features violence – like Call of Duty – for their precious snowflake because they’re told “it’s not that bad” even when retail employees do their jobs and inform the parents about the clearly visible rating on the box. I’m willing to bet a majority of those 14 and under playing the latest M-rated game didn’t buy the game with money made from employment.
3) Similar things have been tried, and failed. Video games are protected under the First Amendment as free speech, according to a 2003 federal court ruling. Also, a very similar proposal in Oklahoma was struck down. Her fellow Missouri Republicans, like Webb City State Representative Charlie Davis, say the bill will be dead in the water because Republicans traditionally don’t support new taxes on, well, anything.
4) Her bill implies that anyone with a mental illness could snap and go on a killing spree if they like video games. I don’t have to say any more.
It’s obvious that in the wake of tragedy we, as human beings, want to try to find explanations for events like what went down in Newtown… and that’s fine. But trying to point a finger at video games, just because the shooter played Call of Duty – like millions of other non-murderers – is futile.