Gov. Jennifer Granholm urged the swift passing of a bill that would criminalize the sale of violent video games to children last Monday, reiterating the request made in her State of the State address earlier this year. The bill, sponsored by state senators Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit) and Alan Crospey (R-DeWitt), would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to one year in jail, to distribute games rated “M” to a person under 17. Granholm said scientific research and “common sense” have shown that violent video games can have damaging effects on young minds. “As a mother,” she told legislators, “it is my job to protect my children. As governor, it is my job to make sure everybody’s children are protected.” While Granholm’s commitment to mothering Michigan’s youth is well-intentioned, this legislation is ultimately unnecessary and oversteps the state’s powers.

This bill is merely the latest episode in a long history of hysteria surrounding media violence and its effect on children. Video games are the newest culprit to be blamed for violent behavior among children, with many politicians jumping on the bandwagon in the interest of appearing socially responsible while often ignoring larger, more relevant social problems. With the popularity of games such as “Grand Theft Auto,” it is easy to assign blame to those who sell and create video games. But for all Granholm’s “common sense,” it is still unclear whether there is any correlation between violence in entertainment and youth violence, and scientists are far from reaching a consensus on the matter.

One thing, however, is clear: For all the media hype surrounding school shootings and violent games, arrest rates show that youth violence over the last decade has hardly been an epidemic. According to 2003 federal crime statistics, juvenile violent crime since 1993 — the year that, with the release of both “Doom” and “Mortal Kombat,” video game violence entered the public consciousness — has dropped 46 percent, while juvenile homicide arrests have fallen 75 percent.

Concerned parents should have the right to decide for themselves what they feel could harm their children — and there are already voluntary standards in place to help them. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board is a nonprofit organization that rates video games, with each rating specifying for which age groups the game is appropriate. Ratings range from “E,” for games that are suitable for all age levels, to “M,” for games with mature content. “M”-rated games are considered appropriate only for those over the age of 17, and it is this class of games that the bill would affect. In addition to the ratings, the ESRB provides “content descriptors,” which list those elements that triggered the rating. These ratings make it easy for parents to determine what is and is not appropriate for their children; parents who choose to use them can do so without help from the state, and parents who choose to ignore them should have the right to do so.

This bill erroneously targets violent video games while ignoring the real causes of juvenile violence — social problems, such as poverty and inadequate schools, that require solutions more courageous and difficult than attacking video games.The state Legislature must be willing to take a stand against this bill’s misguided finger-pointing and instead turn its efforts towards addressing the real causes of juvenile violence.

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