The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants, which will decide whether California’s blanket ban on
people under age 18 being allowed to purchase certain violent video games will stand.
The justices seemed sympathetic to the idea that there should be some way to shield minors from violent games in which the player has the option of “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being,” as the 2005 statute put it. But most of the
justices’ questions seemed to indicate they think that California’s law went too far to avoid
violating the First Amendment’s protection of speech and expression.
The ban, which would probably include titles like “Postal 2,” “Mortal Kombat” or “Grand Theft Auto IV,” seemed too far along the famous slippery slope for most justices.
“What about films? What about comic books? Grimm’s Fairy Tales? Why are video games special?” asked progressive Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To an argument that video games are something new and unique, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia shot back: “That same argument could have been made when movies first came out. They could have said, ‘Oh, we’ve had
violence in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but we’ve never had it live on the screen.’ I mean, every time there’s a new technology, you can make that argument.”
The primary task of protecting children from potentially harmful activities or impressions belongs to parents, and parents vary in their concerns. It is almost impossible to prevent children from ever seeing or vicariously participating in violence conveyed through a variety of media, and part of a parent’s job is helping children to deal with that reality. An outright government ban not only violates our constitutional traditions, it simply is not helpful.
A ruling from the high court is expected
sometime for the current term ends in June.