Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin used last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as an excuse to argue that the First Amendment protections on speech are important — but maybe less important than the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
“There are video games that yes, are listed for mature audiences, but kids play them and everybody knows it, and there’s nothing to prevent the child from playing them,” Bevin said during a radio interview. “They celebrate the slaughtering of people. There are games that literally replicate and give people the ability to score points for doing the very same thing that these students are doing inside of schools, where you get extra points for finishing someone off who’s lying there begging for their life.”
It feels like we’ve come full circle, with very little progress made since the last time the debate over violent and questionable video games took place in 2011. Politicians like Bevin want to argue that it’s too soon to talk about regulating guns following a school shooting that killed 17 people, but it’s the perfect time to discuss regulating speech. It’s nearly impossible to believe that he’s making these arguments in good faith, and I think we do everyone a disservice if we allow him to hide behind faux-gravitas. His argument is nonsensical on its face.
“We need to have an honest conversation as to what should and should not be allowed in the United States as it relates to the things being put in the hands of our young people,” Bevin said in a recent interview.
“You look at the ‘culture of death’ that is being celebrated,” Bevin said during the radio interview.
The issue isn’t that our country’s laws make it so easy to get ahold of guns, but that our First Amendment is being upheld in the courts.
“I’m a big believer in the First Amendment and right to free speech, but there are certain things that are so graphic as it relates to violence, and things that are so pornographic on a whole another front that we allow to pass under the guise of free speech, which arguably are,” Bevin stated. “But there is zero redemptive value. There is zero upside to any of this being in the public domain, let alone in the minds and hands and homes of our young people.”
We’ve been here before
I grew up in Kentucky, and I’m well-versed in Bevin’s way of thinking and his various controversies. He’s currently enmeshed in a pension dispute with teachers, to give you some idea of where his priorities lie.
He’s not an individual I respect very much when it comes to issues of governance, although the power he wields makes him impossible to ignore. This latest argument against violent media dates him in a particularly unflattering way; it’s as if he thinks we can fix complicated social issues by banning PUBG.
This isn’t up for debate. In 2011, the Supreme Court gave video games the same protection, as works of expression, as literature, art and film.
“Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively,” the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, a case arising out of a California law that sought to regulate the sale of violent video games. “Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.”
This happened after a number of states attempted to legislate games across multiple years. The laws were struck down each time, often at great cost to taxpayers. The act of blaming video games for the ills of society has a long, expensive history in the courts. The First Amendment has won every time.
Bevin has to know that we’ve had this fight in the courts already, and there’s not much wiggle room when it comes to legislating games or other violent content. Trying to argue that the games are at fault when it comes to school shootings isn’t going to lead to any substantial changes, and we need to move forward in some area to make schools safer. Going back to failed arguments from 2011 doesn’t help anyone.
Threatening to legislate video games and other forms of violent media was always about pretending a symptom was a disease, and it’s strange to see people from the party of small government argue that the government should be in charge of the games you play, but not the guns you buy.
Weakening the First Amendment to avoid talking about the Second Amendment is a dangerous road, and the Supreme Court has already put that issue to bed. It’s ridiculous to think video games are an issue we need to re-argue, even if it’s just done in the court of public opinion.
Making the issue of school shootings about video games isn’t even a lack of moving forward as much as it’s actively taking a step backward. Those bones were picked clean years ago, and it’s personally hard to believe I’m writing about this issue again after so many of us thought the Supreme Court decision would be enough.
Blaming video games and the media for violence is just as tiresome now as it was a decade ago, only now we have the benefit of the Supreme Court’s ruling. There’s no excuse for politicians to pretend that this isn’t a settled issue.
There is no chance that any federal or state government is going to be able to successfully control games or other forms of entertainment, making Bevin’s attempts to spin the discussion away from gun control even more cowardly.