Violent video games will provide the battleground for yet another skirmish testing the limits of government.
U.S. Supreme Court justices this week heard arguments on the constitutionality of a California law seeking to prohibit anyone younger than 18 from purchasing or renting violent video games.
The law defines the illegal games as those that give players the option of "killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being."
Under the law, parents may buy the games for their own children, but retailers would face fines up to $1,000 for each game sold directly to a minor.
The California law was approved in 2005, but legal challenges have prevented it from becoming effective. The Supreme Court is expected to decide the case sometime in 2011.
The arguments - and justices' questions - centered on two issues: Do the games cause physical or psychological harm to minors, and does the law violate the First Amendment freedom of speech?
Chief Justice John Roberts addressed the former issue. "In these video games, the child is not sitting there passively watching something," he said. "The child is doing the killing. The child is doing the maiming. And I suppose that might be understood to have a different impact on the child's moral development."
Justice Antonin Scalia, however, referenced the First Amendment and said: "It has never been understood that freedom of speech did not include portrayals of violence. You are asking us to create a whole new prohibition
In the court of public opinion, another issue is government responsibility versus parental responsibility. Is monitoring a child's purchase a role for parents or for government?
Violence has become a component not only of video games, but song lyrics, movies, books and comics.
In this case, we plead the First Amendment.
Prohibition of what minors watch, read or hear must come from parents, not government.