OPINION: Parent Advisories and Age Restrictions on Violent Video Games Don’t Violate the First Amendment
I can still remember seeing the chilling photos of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on the news after they opened fire on the student body and faculty of Columbine High School back in 1999. People were shocked, saddened and looking for reasons why something like that could happen. Tragedies such as the Columbine and more recent Newtown massacres don’t stem from just one root cause; there are always a number of risk factors at play. But in the aftermath, people have a tendency to point fingers because they are terrified… and desperate for answers.
Was it possible that these disturbed gunmen were influenced by the video games they were playing or the music they were listening to on a regular basis?
After Columbine, I became obsessed about the required use of parental advisories on explicit music, video, and gaming content. I wrote impassioned letters to my local legislators, appealing to them to pass laws restricting the sale of explicit content to kids under 18, only to find out that the form letters I received in response were ambivalent, dismissive and sometimes not even about the topic I wrote them on!
We live in a world without filters…
Things that would be considered taboo years ago have become mainstream. The levels of violence in television shows or in movies that made us cringe ten years ago barely make us blink an eye because the images are constant and ubiquitous. It seems that we aren’t shielded from anything and nothing is left up to the imagination. Furthermore, the popular opinion nowadays seems to be “the more explicit, the better.”
Is there a direct correlation between gun violence and media that is deemed inappropriate for specific age groups? The answer is no. But even though studies performed fail to show a relation, does that mean becoming engrossed with explicit fictional violence will not have any impact on a gamer? Absolutely not, and as a result, there are a number of efforts underway right now in our state to restrict the purchase of violent video games by kids under 18 and it is important to note that the bills are being proposed by Republicans and Democrats alike.
These are not the first attempts at regulation, Save Jerseyans, and the Supreme Court has already overturned bills passed in 10 different states because they were seen as violating First Amendment rights. However, the same Supreme Court that has stated video games are a form of speech protected by the First Amendment has also recognized that the government can prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence.
While I don’t think that continued use of violent video games will be a primary driver behind a mass shooting, I do believe that extensive use can make someone more aggressive and more likely to display and act on certain behaviors if they already have the propensity to do so. They may almost become desensitized to constant violence, which is dangerous because it no longer carries any shock value. The end result could very well be brutality unleashed on innocent victims.
How does the Supreme Court respond to the “potential” for violence? It seems like there are endless varying interpretations of the First Amendment’s scope, but I have yet to see an opinion about dealing with possible infringement on the well-being of others.
Think about it this way – just as continued exposure to soothing music can bring about feelings of peace and serenity in someone, wouldn’t the same frequency of exposure to extreme violence potentially have the opposite effect? Again, I’m making a generalization here, but you see where I am headed.
I don’t believe that the government should oversee every aspect of our lives, so this opinion may seem to be a bit contradictory to my typical conservative stances. But I just feel like there are so many more negative external influences that impact our kids now – influences that are becoming harder and harder to control. Of course parents need to be aware and informed and they need to embrace their responsibility over the well-being of their children. But this proposed legislation is way more important than banning oversized sodas or butter in schools. This is just an added layer of protection, for kids, their parents, for society as a whole.