Republican DebraLee Hovey Seeks Sin Tax Against Video Games: It's Blatantly Unconstitutional

After the Sandy Hook shooting, video games have been unjustly scapegoated as a cause of mass shootings.

Now, a lawmaker from Newtown, Conn., has proposed a new bill that would place a "sin tax" on video games that are rated "mature," due to the perception that they cause "antisocial behavior."

This tax is unjust infringing on First Amendment rights and based on an uninformed and deeply misguided belief that there is a direct connection between video games and violent behavior.

The Sin Tax On Video Games

During the final days of the January session of the Connecticut General Assembly, State Representative DebraLee Hovey (R) put forward Proposed Bill No. 5735, which would effectively place a arbitrary 10% tax on games rated "mature" by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

This was picked up by Phillip DeFranco on his YouTube show (starts at 3:45):


The language of the proposed tax bill is as follows:

"That the general statutes be amended to establish a sales tax on the sale of video games rated "mature" at a rate of ten per cent on the entire sales price and to require the moneys derived from such sales tax be used by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services for the purpose of developing informational materials to educate families on the warning signs of video game addiction and antisocial behavior."

The bill's statement of purpose outlines that it intends "[t]o provide funds for education concerning the danger of violent video games."

In other words, because violent video games cause "antisocial behavior," the people who purchase such games can be forced to pay a additional 10% because of the perceived relationship between video games and violent behavior.

Why would Lovey go so far as to call her tax a "sin tax"? Lovey explained her thinking during an NBC News interview:

"In my mind, we do not need to be glorifying violence. What about murder and mayhem have become entertainment in our society? I think that putting a sin tax — and in my mind this is a sin tax — on the M-rated video games ... will cause people to think about what they are actually purchasing."

In effect, Hovey is blaming video games for violent crimes like the Sandy Hook shooting?

The Video Games and Violent Behavior Correlation

The connection between violent video games and violent behavior among gamers has been peddled by many policymakers since the Sandy Hook shooting.

The problem is that there is no stringent scientific research behind this assertion. 

According to a recent study, 91% of kids aged 2-17 play video games. That number is up 9% from 2009. Among the total population, over 180 million Americans play video games, with over 25% of gamers being over age 50. Video games are a booming market, pulling in nearly $60 billion globally in 2010, with an average annual rate of growth expected to remain steady between seven and eight percent for years to come.

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of playing video games ... from enhanced motor skills to improved eye sight, pain relief, and faster decision-making. Most importantly, there has never been a single scientific study showing that video games lead to gun violence.

Experts have testified that video games are likely only one of many factors that contribute to violent behavior among certain people. A range of socioeconomic forces play roles in the behavior of those who act out.

With no evidence that violent video games are a causal factor, though somewhat related to increased aggression, there is little reason for any rational leader to link violent behavior with violent video games.

Why the "Sin Tax" is Unconstitutional

If Hovey's "Sin Tax" passes into law, Connecticut will have enacted a blatantly unconstitutional law. Several years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a ruling that made video games a form of protected speech.

In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2010), SCOTUS ruled that video games constituted protected speech. The Court noted that unless the government, whether it be federal or state, must show that any law restricting video games must pass strict scrutiny.

In other words, the government must show a "compelling government interest" and the law must "is 'narrowly tailored' to meet the government's objectives, and whether there are less restrictive means of accomplishing the same thing."

In this case, there is no "compelling government government interest" as the "sin tax" law has no evidence making direct links between video games and violent behavior. There are also "less restrictive means of accomplishing" the law's intent of educating the public about violent video games without unfairly taxing video gamers.

Also, why should the burden of properly funding mental health services in the state of Connecticut fall on video gamers?

Hovey and her supporters (if there are any supporters) are completely in the wrong in trying to push this "sin tax" on violent video games. They lack the evidence to link violent video games and aggressive behavior shown by people like Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, which in turn makes their law unconstitutional as it doesn't pass strict scrutiny.

It would not be far from the truth to say that Hovey and company are trying to water down and hurt the First Amendment by passing their "sin tax" to unjustly punish video gamers in Connecticut.

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Dillon Zhou

Dillon currently works as a Foreign Teacher at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu. He graduated from International Relations Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2012. He previously worked at the Cyber Conflict Studies Association in Vienna, VA as a research assistant. He has also worked at the US Embassy in Tirana, Albania and JFK Library's Declassification Unit. His primary areas of interests are in US-China Relations and US Cyber Security Policy. He is proficient in speaking and reading Mandarin Chinese.

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