Blaming Video Games Is Taking The Easy Way Out

On Monday, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law a bill that makes it illegal for anyone in the state to sell or rent to anyone under the age of 18 video games containing graphic depictions of violence.At first blush, this sort of measure appears to protect the state's children, a noble effort.Games like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" clearly are offensive, and any reasonable parent would not let his or her child play the game. On the other hand, we live in a society saturated with real-life violence, and that is a lot more difficult to stop.Rather than addressing actual criminal activity, legislators in Illinois have taken the easy way out and played the media blame game. They have adopted a feel-good approach that attacks fictional and fantasy images of violence in media products, instead of dealing with actual crime.The new Illinois law and a similar measure proposed last week at the federal level by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., amount to flawed attempts to create a false sense of security at the expense of the constitutional rights of the creators and users of video games.
What is even more troubling than lawmakers seeking headlines on a controversial issue is that they have enacted this measure against a backdrop of settled constitutional law invalidating similar bills elsewhere. Every law restricting violent video games has met with the same fate: struck down as unconstitutional by a federal court.As Chicago-based Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit the federal appellate court with jurisdiction in Illinois made clear in a case striking down an Indianapolis ordinance, the interactive nature of games does not make them any less deserving of First Amendment protection.All "literature (here broadly defined to include movies, television and other photographic media) is interactive; the better it is, the more interactive," Posner observed. Legislators know that they would face certain peril if they tried to ban books, movies or television programs, so instead they take on a new technology and try to convince their constituents that graphic depictions of violence in a interactive format somehow makes it more harmful to minors.But virtually all laws to restrict the First Amendment rights of citizens in this country must demonstrate that the government has a compelling interest that would be served by barring certain content. Provable harm to children would satisfy that burden, but no such evidence exists.That's one reason why measures like the one signed by Gov. Blagojevich have failed when challenged in court. Federal courts have adopted Judge Posner's reasoning in striking down similar laws in those jurisdictions. Gang members don't commit drive-by shootings because they played a video game, and school kids don't shoot others because they played a video game. Hundreds of thousands of kids play video games, and the overwhelming majority of them never assault or otherwise harm anyone.The problems of young people who do are extremely complex, and the politicians surely know this. Gov. Blagojevich and the Illinois legislature share the responsibility for enacting measures that violate the Constitution, but the citizens of Illinois will share the expense of defending these invalid measures as inevitable court challenges move forward.- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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