Missouri Legislators Mull Special Tax on Violent Video Games

Published February 12, 2013

A Missouri lawmaker wants to levy a tax on violent video games, with the extra money going toward studying mental health issues.

Rep. Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton) has introduced a state House bill that would impose a 1 percent additional sales tax on video games rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board as teen, mature, or adult-only.

The Entertainment Software Association, which represents publishers of video games, issued a statement opposing the measure.

“We are disappointed that even in the wake of an overwhelming decision in the United States Supreme Court finding proposals such as this to be patently unconstitutional, there are those who still try to attack video games with outdated notions of our industry,” said ESA spokesman Dan Hewitt.

Retailers Have Policies in Place

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law in California that banned the sale of violent video games to minors. Most retail stores, including Walmart and Gamestop, already have policies prohibiting underage shoppers from buying mature-rated games.

One obvious problem with Franklin’s measure is that the ESRB rates games based on other factors in addition to violence, such as gambling, language, sexual content, and drugs and alcohol, says Patrick Ishmael, a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute. Descriptions on the back of each software title clearly state which factors contribute to the game’s rating.

“In other words, teen-rated games like ‘The Sims,’ ‘Dance Central,’ or ‘Guitar Hero’ would be included in the tax, even though they’re nonviolent,” he said. “Clearly, the law is poorly crafted. It’s probably unconstitutional anyway since it targets the content of speech.”

Oklahoma Task Force

Oklahoma Democratic Rep. William Fourkiller pushed similar legislation in the Sooner State last year, but a subcommittee threw it out by a narrow margin. His initial proposal would have imposed a 1 percent sales tax, but Fourkiller later revised it to create a task force to analyze the impact of video games on children instead.

Video games have taken some heat after the recent mass shootings. Again, the “Grand Theft Auto-made-me-do-it” excuse is mentioned.

The National Rifle Association, the target of much finger-pointing after the Dec. 14 Newtown Elementary School killings in Connecticut, deflected blame toward the video-game industry.

“There exists in this country a callous, corrupt, and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said in a December news conference.

Ishmael dismisses that rhetoric.

‘Throwing 1st Amendment Under the Bus’

“I have a problem with people trying to protect the Second Amendment by throwing the First Amendment under the bus,” he said.

As part of a fact-finding mission on the causes of gun violence, President Obama on Wednesday called for studies of software used on Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation game systems.

One of the best-selling series on all of those platforms, “Call of Duty,” pits players against each other online in a series of “death matches” in which users can choose from a variety of military weapons. Those games are rated mature.

“Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds,” Obama said. “We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science.”

For Mental Health Conditions

Franklin’s bill would set aside the additional tax revenue “solely for the treatment of mental health conditions associated with exposure to violent video games.”

A representative from her Capitol office said Franklin was working on some revisions to her bill, but she didn’t say what they were and when the bill would be resubmitted.

The legislation must be referred and approved by a committee before reaching the House floor.

Johnny Kampis ([email protected]) reports for Missouri News Horizon, where an earlier version of this article appeared. Used with permission.