Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Banning Violent Video Games: Free Speech Violation or Smart Legislation?

June 3, 2011 by Dr. Steve Frank


With its summer recess looming, one of the most highly anticipated decisions of the Supreme Court’s term will be handed down this month. In a case from California, the justices have been asked to decide whether the government can ban the sale of violent video games to kids.

It’s an issue that speaks to every parent and child in the country. For the past few months, visitors to the National Constitution Center have been weighing in at the Town Hall Wall in the main exhibition gallery. Opinions have been sharply divided.

The case involves a California law that bans the sale of violent video games to children under 18. In addition to California, six other states and one county have passed similar laws, in the belief that violent video games are harmful enough that children should be protected from them by the government. Every time a lower court has reviewed such a law, it has been struck down as a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. In the past, the Supreme Court has allowed states to ban the sale of only one kind of speech to kids – porn.

Teacher's corner

In addition to considering the following arguments below, what implications would a Supreme Court decision have on media censorship if the justices do decide that violent video games can no longer be sold? Here is a Town Hall poster that can help facilitate discussion.

Should the government also be able to ban the sale of violent video games to kids? Before the justices issue their opinion, please leave a comment below. Here are six arguments to consider:

• Gruesomely violent video games are not appropriate for children, and government can legitimately ban their sale to them.

• It’s not the government’s job to decide what is appropriate for kids; that’s the responsibility of parents.

• If explicit sexual material can be banned from children without violating the First Amendment, so should violent content. Such games are obscene for kids, even if they are acceptable for adults.

• People more or less agree on what is sexually obscene, but there is no such consensus about violence. So where do you draw the line?

• Scientific research shows that violent video games cause aggressive behavior in children and adolescents.

• The research can’t prove for sure that violent video games make kids more aggressive. Some studies suggest that kids use the games to vent anger.

[polldaddy poll=5109051]


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