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Can’t ban violent video sales to kids, court says
The California law never took effect. Lower courts have said that the law violated minors’ constitutional rights, and that California lacked enough evidence to prove that violent games cause physical and psychological harm to minors. Courts in six other states, including Michigan and Illinois, reached similar conclusions, striking down similar bans.
Video game makers and sellers celebrated their victory, saying Monday’s decision puts them on the same legal footing as other forms of entertainment. “There now can be no argument whether video games are entitled to the same protection as books, movies, music and other expressive entertainment,” said Bo Andersen, president and CEO of the Entertainment Merchants Association.
But the battle may not be over. Leland Yee, a child psychologist and California state senator who wrote the video game ban, told The Associated Press Monday that he was reading the dissents in hopes of finding a way to reintroduce the law in a way that would be constitutional.
“It’s disappointing the court didn’t understand just how violent these games are,” Yee told the AP.
Thomas argued in his separate dissent that the nation’s founders never intended for free speech rights to “include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.”
And at least two justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, indicated they would be willing to reconsider their votes under certain circumstances. “I would not squelch legislative efforts to deal with what is perceived by some to be a significant and developing social problem,” Alito said, suggesting that a narrower state law might be upheld.
States can legally ban children from getting pornography. But Scalia said in his ruling that, unlike depictions of sexual conduct, there is no tradition in the United States of restricting children’s access to depictions of violence. He noted the violence in the original depictions of many popular children’s fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Snow White.
Hansel and Gretel kill their captor by baking her in an oven, Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves and the evil queen in Snow White is forced to wear red hot slippers and dance until she is dead, Scalia said.
“Certainly the books we give children to read _ or read to them when they are younger _ contain no shortage of gore,” he said.
And there is no proof that violent video games cause harm to children, or any more harm than another other form of entertainment, he said.
One doctor “admits that the same effects have been found when children watch cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner or when they play video games like Sonic the Hedgehog that are rated `E’ or even when they `view a picture of a gun,” Scalia said.
Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said the decision created a constitutionally authorized “end-run on parental authority.”
“I wonder what other First Amendment right does a child have against their parents’ wishes?” he said. “Does a child now have a constitutional right to bear arms if their parent doesn’t want them to buy a gun? How far does this extend? It’s certainly concerning to us that something as simple as requiring a parental oversight to purchase an adult product has been undermined by the court.”
The case is Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 08-1448.
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