Our Opinion: Violent video games attack Constitution
Friday, July 1, 2011
In addition to images of cruelty and depravity, violent video games also depict the dilemma that is government mandate versus personal responsibility.
In a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the judges vanquished a government prohibition and sided with personal — more specifically, parental — responsibility.
As a matter of principle, we agree that prohibiting the sale or rental of violent video games to children is unconstitutional. As a practical matter, however, we fear harried parents often do not and likely will not exercise their responsibility.
The California law deemed unconstitutional would have banned anyone under age 18 from buying or renting video games that allow players the option of “killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.”
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the 7-2 majority: “No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm, but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict ideas to which children may be exposed.”
Scalia obviously drew a distinction between restrictions on ideas and activities. Precluded activities for minors include voting, driving, smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages.
But Justice Stephen Breyer, although he joined the majority, made another distinction. He asked: “What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect children by restricting sales of that extremely violent video game only when the woman — bound, gagged, tortured and killed — is also topless?”
His question, though troubling, deserves to be pondered.
We encourage parents to consider Breyer’s question and also to consider their role in overseeing their offspring.
Our freedoms invest parents not only with the authority, but also the responsibility, to supervise the physical, mental and emotional welfare of their children.
When parents abdicate that role, they invite government regulation.