Gun Violence Solution: Tax Violent Video Games


GOP Rep. Diane Franklin of rural Camdenton, Missouri has an idea for reducing gun violence: a 1% sales tax on violent video games in response to the deadly Sandy Hook shootings, which could go to fund mental health programs and law enforcement protections against mass shooters.

The tax would be levied on games rated "Teen," "Mature," and "Adult-Only," by the Entertainment Software Review Board, a self-regulatory industry organization.

“History shows there is a mental health component to these shootings,” said Franklin.

The rating board classifies games as "Teen" if they contain violence, suggestive themes or crude humor; "Mature" if they contain intense violence and gore, and "Adults Only" if they contain gambling and strong sexual or violent content suitable only for persons aged 18 or older. Generally speaking, the A-O rating is reserved for pornographic games, not violent ones: most retailers refuse to carry AO games, and publishers are wary to release a video game with a built-in limit to the purchasing audience. Conversely, many games rated "Teen" do not have any violent content at all: releases like Guitar Hero, The Sims, Forza, among others, are rated "Teen" while containing no significant violence.

The Entertainment Software Association has came out strongly against the proposed tax, saying that “taxing First Amendment protected speech based on its content is not only wrong, but will end up costing Missouri taxpayers” — possibly a veiled suggestion that it will attempt to fight any encroachment on game profits with a lawsuit.

Other plans to tax violent video games have failed. In Oklahoma in 2012, Republican state Rep. William Fourkiller proposed a similar tax to fight childhood obesity and bullying but was unable to bring the bill out of committee, while a 2008 effort in New Mexico failed.

While no clear scientific evidence exists to link violent video games with mass shootings, a 1% sales tax would amount to approximately 60 cents for a brand-new AAA release: hardly something that will put a real damper on (admittedly falling) $13.26 billion in video game sales in 2012.