On Election Day, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Schwarzenegger vs. Entertainment Merchants Association. The irony of this case name was obvious: The celebrated violent-action-hero governor of California had signed a bill into law in 2005 forbidding the sale of ultraviolent video games to minors, a law that lower federal courts prevented from ever going into effect.
Why should the Supremes care about this? After all, a year before that, Schwarzenegger signed a law making it illegal for anyone under 14 years old to tan indoors under any circumstances. (Children from 14 to 18 can tan -- with parental consent.) The fine for salon operators for each violation is as much as $2,500 per day. Somehow, this did not become a cause celebre and was not fought all the way to the Supreme Court. Indeed, 32 states are inhibiting the freedom of minors to tan, and no one cares.
But interfere with their right to fry their minds and there's hell to pay. Video-game manufacturers don't want politicians tampering with their sales to minors, so here comes the march of the First Amendment fundamentalists, who argue that the principle of freedom of speech covers the enthusiastic distribution and sale of every kind of child-corrupting media horror. For them, there must be no helpful hurdle or brake for children to go around their parents and grab what Justice Samuel Alito called "the most violent, sadistic, graphic video game that can be developed."
Paul Smith, a lawyer for the game manufacturers, argued that when they wrote the Bill of Rights, our Founding Fathers essentially guaranteed that a 10-year-old boy can acquire a game with graphic beheadings and disembowelments. "The existing solutions are perfectly capable of allowing this problem to be addressed," Smith says, "assuming it is a problem."
Assuming it's a problem? Does Smith have children? Is he one of those parents who believes grade-schoolers should not only watch an incessant parade of graphic violence, but participate in it interactively? You don't have to believe that every video-game player will act out his virtual violence in the real world to know it certainly will have noticeable antisocial effects on young children.
Requiring the parent to buy these games is hardly shredding the Constitution.
Smith's suggested hurdles for child purchases were the industry's own ratings, blocking technologies, the cost of the games and the difficulty of playing them at home in secret. Cheers for Alito, who wasn't buying any of this foolishness.
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