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A bill introduced by Missouri Republican state Rep. Diane Franklin proposes a 1 percent sales tax on essentially all video games not given an early childhood or “E” rating by the ESRB for the purpose of funding mental health treatment from “exposure to violent video games.” This is not only the kind of legislation targeting games that has previously been found unconstitutional, but it represents government’s continued willingness to abdicate responsibility of a public health concern, even in the face of tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
House Bill 157 is destined for nothing more than expensive courtroom litigation if it is actually passed by the Missouri General Assembly this session. The folly of doing so should be clear since the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that video games, as a creative medium, can’t be treated with more restrictions than books or movies in response to questions over the legality of a ban that forbade game retailers from selling violent games to minors with the threat of heavy fines.
While a tax technically doesn’t restrict game sales in the same way as an outright ban, even a C-average law student should successfully be able to argue the bill undercuts the intentions of the 2011 high court decision that video games be treated no differently than other forms of media.
The bill seems more opportunistic than realistic, as it is steeped in the usual bromides of politicians looking to cast blame on the entertainment children hear and see as the reason some act out violently. The gaming industry isn’t going to accept a 1 percent sales tax that funnels money directly for treatment of mental disorders “caused by exposure to violent video games.” The legislation is based on the assumption that violent games do cause mental health problems in people, something that has never been unequivocally proven.
Bills like this also indicate, even after a number of mass shootings perpetrated by mentally sick individuals, some in government will continue to ignore the need to put more public resources into mental health treatment. A 1 percent tax on an industry that hasn’t ever been proven at fault for the epidemic for the purpose of treating a cause and effect that doesn’t necessarily exist is a poor attempt at public policy on this matter.
We’re so uncomfortable in this nation dealing with mental health disorders that we spend half our time pining over politically correct terms for them and the other half trying not to notice they exist at all. The real problem with “loony bins,” as I’ll crassly call them, is that there aren’t enough of them, or they’re so underfunded and understaffed they can’t help people.
Lots of times a person having a mental breakdown isn’t sent to a “loony bin;” they are sent to an emergency room that isn’t equipped to help them with their current problem. The result: A lot of mentally sick people kill themselves while the one mental health center within 100 miles is telling the doctor over the phone they don’t have any more beds to take on another patient.
The goal of this whole debate should be to stop mass shootings, not find a scapegoat for mass shootings. The solution won’t come on the back of the video game industry or on the back of the gun industry. It comes when we figure out how and why we miss the signs of a person about to do something catastrophic to their own lives and to the lives of others. We can’t simply paint the individuals who do this as evil people who developed a fetish for violence sitting in front of a video game and will use the availability of guns to arm themselves for acts of terror.
Everyone is looking for a panacea when all they need is an antidote.