January 20, 2013

Should Violent Video Games Be Taxed?

Another legislative attack on video games has been launched. A Missouri state Representative has proposed a bill to the Missouri state House that would put a new tax on ‘violent’ video games.

Last week, Representative Diane Franklin (R) brought forth a new bill. House Bill 157 states that a one percent excise tax shall be levied upon all sales of violent video games based on the gross receipts or gross proceeds of each sale. It also places a one percent tax on any and all ‘tangible personal property’ associated with these violent video games. This means that things such as action figures, clothes, and other accessories will also be taxed. It goes on to say that all of the revenue generated by this tax may only be used for the treatment of mental health patients with conditions resulting from playing these violent video games.

There’s no debating that the tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. had influence on the creation of this bill. Representative Franklin calls the bill, “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public welfare, peace, and security.” The allocation of revenue towards treatment of mental health conditions resulting from exposure to violent video games suggests that Franklin feels that Adam Lanza’s exposure to “violent” games was a significant factor in his decision to commit such a heinous act of carnage. But there are problems with the exact wording and general purpose of the bill.

The first problem is the bill’s definition of a “violent video game.” The bill says that a violent video game is “any video or computer game that has received a rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board of Teen, Mature, or Adult Only.” If every game that is rated T, M, or AO is taxed, that means that consumers will be paying extra for completely harmless and non-violent games such as ‘Guitar Hero’, ‘The Sims’, and ‘Dance Central’, which all earn their ratings simply from ‘suggestive content/lyrics.’ Based on the law, that would also mean all accessories such as extra guitars, microphones, and drum sets for Guitar Hero, or add-ons like “Sims 3:Pets” would be taxed. I don’t think one becomes a suicidal killer by failing to beat “Through the Fire and the Flames” on expert. Aside from that issue, this bill may also be considered unconstitutional because it violates freedom of speech.

Next is the intent of the bill and what Franklin hopes to accomplish with it. The bill is supposed to finance treatment of mental health conditions resulting from exposure to violent video games in order to help prevent things like what happened at Sandy Hook from happening again. Several studies have shown that school shootings and other events like this, the shooters almost always have had some pre-existing personality traits like anger, psychosis, introversion, etc. They also show that most people who play violent video games suffer little to no effect from them. So while it may help a little, the tax might be better spent on treatment of all mental health conditions, instead of just ones from violent games.

This bill has some glaring issues, mainly with the definition of a ‘violent video game’. Another similar bill in Oklahoma was shot down last February with a 5-6 subcommittee vote. But, a representative has told Missouri Watchdog that Representative Franklin is currently revising the bill. The revised version may be much better worded. So, this leaves few questions unanswered. Should video games be taxed? Do you think this bill will go through? Will spending on treatment for mental health conditions from violent video games reduce gun-related violence? Leave a comment, tell me what you think!

Image Credit: Hot Property / Shutterstock

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