Friday, June 09, 2006

Louisiana to ban violent video game sales to minors

Measure HB 1381 was passed by Louisiana's legislature, and only needs the governor's signature to be made into a law. It makes it illegal to sell violent video games to minors, punishing a store owner with a fine of between $100 and $2,000 and up to a year in jail for doing so.

I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, as a parent I don't want Logan — our seven year old — playing Grand Theft Auto.

On the other hand, I abhor governments passing laws that will not stand up to scrutiny, and for reasons that are flat out wrong.

This bill was drafted due to a murder a couple of years ago. Two teens shot a man with a rifle and then bludgeoned him with it. When the police raided their home, they found violent video games. Jack Thompson, an anti-game lawyer/advocate in Florida, helped draft the bill. His reasons are posted here.

It's a "motherhood argument": violent games are causing kids to be violent, so we need to ban them.

One little problem: the rate of violent crime has actually decreased in recent years, while the number of violent video games has increased. No one has ever been able to show a causal link between violence and violent video games. People have attempted to tie violent movies and violent television to teen violence without any success. Last night, on The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert interviewed Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. Johnson mentioned in the interview the decline in violence in the country, making an interesting counterpoint to the legislature's bill.

This bill sounds like a good idea, but it's based on emotional arguments with no scientific backing. Since the rate of violence has gone down as these games increased in appearance, it doesn't seem likely that games cause violence. Could it be that teens pre-disposed to violence play these games, and that we're looking at a symptom and not a cause? The link I gave above suggests that the Columbine murders used the computer game Doom to plan out their attack. I played Doom all the way through; I find it hard to believe that they used it to plan their rampage. More likely these kids, with violent leanings, became engrossed in a game that they simply identified with.

Note that they didn't ban guns. The teen murderers used a gun to kill the man. They found a gun and a violent video games. Which are they banning? Of course the 2nd Amendment prevents that, but the 1st Amendment prevents this bill from forcing violent games off store shelves. Similar laws have been struck down before, so it could just be a waste of time and money designed to make politicians look socially conscious in an election year.

I don't think a child can buy a gun in this state, but there are plenty of kids in this state (aged 7, and younger) hunting with their own guns. I notice no one is saying kids shouldn't go hunting — with its real-life blood and killing — while they are all set to stop kids from playing games where they shoot zombies and aliens. I've always thought that kids have a greater capacity for understanding reality than they are given credit.

I wonder who will enforce this law? Do we have enough inspectors? Will they be the same people responsible for making sure kids don't buy cigarettes and alcohol? If so, is the government going after a perceived danger at the expense of real dangers?

While I applaud the need to protect children, I am against passing laws — even "feel good" laws — that don't have any real effect except to add a layer of bureaucracy. I am especially against laws that are likely to be unconstitutional and struck down by higher courts. That's just a waste of money for a state that can't afford to waste a penny.

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