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EDITORIAL: Assault on the First Amendment

Joe Biden endorses a tax on blood and gore

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Taking legal advice from Joe Biden is dangerous, like taking his tips on home defense. The vice president who urges the ladies to deal with intruders by firing a shotgun at the dark now says there's no "legal problem" with imposing a violence tax on movies and video games.

Mr. Biden endorsed the idea, proposed by the Rev. Franklin Graham at a White House meeting to plot strategy for enacting the president's gun legislation. A sin tax would be imposed on video games such as "Call of Duty" and movies such "Django Unchained," dark and bloody both. "We tax cigarettes," Mr. Graham said, "we can tax violence." This was right up the veep's street. Participants in the session told Politico, the Capitol Hill daily, that Mr. Biden said there's "no restriction on the ability to do that; there's no legal reason why they couldn't."

Mr. Biden obviously doesn't like the First Amendment any better than the Second, and doesn't understand that the First Amendment doesn't guarantee responsible speech, it guarantees free speech. The Supreme Court has ruled that depictions of violence have First Amendment protection because such depictions are forms of speech. In 2011, the court applied this principle in striking down a California law to restrict the sale of violent video games. The court said in some detail how it makes no sense for government to attempt to draw a distinction between the images of violence in video games and the depiction of violence in violent classics such as Homer's "Odyssey" and William Golding's "Lord of the Flies."

Mr. Biden's tax on speech would assign government bureaucrats to determine which depictions of barbarism are OK and which aren't. Is the story of Hansel and Gretel, killing their captor by baking her in an oven, violent enough to call in the Internal Revenue Service? Must the movie "Saving Private Ryan" be verboten for depicting the violent reality of D-Day? Would Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" be taxed for describing the cruelty of slavery?

A meeting to plot against the Second Amendment would inevitably devolve into a search for ways to "fix" the First Amendment. The beauty of the Constitution is that the language is clear and straightforward and the words are plain and easily understood. Well-meaning clergymen should beware that Mr. Biden's "solution" might edit the violence out of the Bible.

Hollywood didn't invent tasteless and tacky, but the moviemakers have certainly refined the "art" of the debauched and debased. Nevertheless, Hollywood is not the cause of society's ills. Brutality has always been with us. The American frontier was a particularly violent place. Indians routinely scalped frontiersmen, and the cry that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" was enthusiastically embraced by the settlers. The violence wasn't inspired by the movies, since Thomas Edison perfected the movie projector only in 1896; the first popular home video game, "Pong," made its debut in 1975. No law can erase the evil in the hearts of men, as ministers of the Gospel know better than most.

Easy explanations and easy solutions for difficult problems are nearly always dumb. If the veep could eliminate violence in the culture with a tax, he should think about taxing the dumb ideas of politicians. We could retire the national debt.

The Washington Times

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