Supreme Court strikes down California's ban on violent game sales

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday struck down California's ban on the sale of violent video games to minors, extending the kind of speech protected by the Constitution.

In a ruling closely watched by other states and the entertainment industry, the court determined that California's 2005 violent video game restrictions violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

"Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.

The ruling in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association is a defeat for Gov. Jerry Brown. As California's attorney general, he defended the law, signed by his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the one-time star of the violent "Terminator" movie series.

The 7-2 ruling also continues a run of cases in which the justices have struck down restrictions on violent or salacious material conveyed through a succession of media formats.

"Whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment's command, do not vary, "Scalia wrote.

The video game ruling could constrain at least 11 other states, including Florida, Mississippi and Texas, that explicitly sided with California's efforts to restrict the video games minors can buy. California state Sen. Leland Yee, who authored the law, acknowledged he was "rather disappointed" by the decision but suggested lawmakers might try yet again.

"If we craft the bill differently, there may be a basis for it to be upheld," Yee said at a news conference in California.

Michael D. Gallagher, president and chief executive officer of the Entertainment Software Association, praised the ruling. "The Supreme Court affirmed what we have always known, that free speech protections apply every bit as much to video games as they do to other forms of creative expression like books, movies and music," he said.

Wichita reactions

In Wichita, Game Xchange store manager Adam Linthicum said that when he sees parents buying games for their children, they appear split on the violence issue.

While half of them simply shrug and allow their children to buy violent games, others won't allow it, he said.

Game Xchange buys, sells and trades games and offers gaming consoles for purchase.

As a parent, Linthicum said, he falls in the middle of the violence issue when deciding what games his 10-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son can play. Though he lets them play games like "Halo" where they shoot aliens, he draws the line at other, more mature, games.

But that's a decision he has the responsibility to make, which is why he agrees with the Supreme Court ruling.

"It should be up to the parents and the video game industry to police themselves," he said.

Wichita mom Lori Bleakley said she and her husband look at each game before their sons, 16 and 11, play them. Though the older son is allowed to play more mature games, she said, she makes sure that her younger son is occupied elsewhere so he doesn't watch them. The parents allow their older son to play games with violence, but try to make sure the violence is not directed at humans.

Though Bleakley has established clear rules about video games, she knows that's not always the case.

"Not a whole bunch of parents do that anymore," she said.