Supreme Court Strikes Down California’s Violent Video Game Ban

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 today to strike down a California law that would have banned the sale of “violent” video games to children, citing the overtones of censorship that would come with government regulation of video game content, and free speech rights of parents who, the majority opinion stated, should have the right to decide for themselves which video games are appropriate, harmless fun.

“As a means of assisting concerned parents it (the law) is seriously overinclusive because it abridges the First Amendment rights of young people whose parents (and aunts and uncles) think violent video games are a harmless pastime,”  Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.

CNN reported that the law had been signed in 2005 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a way to apply similar controls to video games as are applied to movies.  While it was in the court system, the law never took effect.  According to CNN:

The legislation was designed to strengthen the current industry-controlled rating system, and would have placed an outright ban on the sale or rental to those under 18 of games deemed excessively “violent.” As defined by California, such interactive games are those in which the player is given the choice of “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being” in offensive ways. It also defined such games as those that would “appeal to a deviant or morbid interest of children and are patently offensive to prevailing community standards.”

Retailers would have faced up to $1,000 fine for violations. The law would also have required game makers and retailers to place an “18″ label prominently on excessively violent games.

Courts in 8 other states have also rejected efforts to ban or restrict violent video game sales. The video game industry, which makes $10.5 billion annually, sued to strike down the California ban.

Proponents of the California law – and Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas, who dissented – say that the law fell under the purview of child protection, not free speech.  “The First Amendment does not disable government from helping parents make such a choice here — a choice not to have their children buy extremely violent, interactive games,” Breyer wrote.

How do you treat violent video games in your house?  Do you think children should be able to purchase such games themselves?

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