The president held a summit at the White House on Thursday with representatives from the video game industry, lawmakers from both parties, and leaders of censorious conservative organizations like the Media Research Council and the Parents Television Council. The meeting was closed to reporters, but The Washington Post reports that Trump vividly floated the idea of regulating video games more closely.
Trump himself opened the meeting by showing “a montage of clips of various violent video games,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri. Then, Hartzler said the president would ask, “This is violent isn’t it?”
“They were violent clips where individuals were killing other human beings in various ways,” she said.
The montage has since been released:
Trump first raised the issue after last month’s massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which led to renewed calls for tighter restrictions on firearms. Whether those efforts would survive Second Amendment challenges is an ongoing debate. But there’s little question that a new push to restrict video games would fail in the courts, thanks to none other than Justice Antonin Scalia.
In 2011, the conservative jurist whom Trump often holds up as an example for judicial nominees wrote the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants’ Association. The ruling struck down a California law that restricted sales of violent video games to minors on First Amendment grounds. In his majority opinion, Scalia pointed to the abundance of brutal and bloody imagery already in other artistic mediums, including children’s literature.
California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none. Certainly the books we give children to read—or read to them when they are younger—contain no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers “till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.” Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven.
“High-school reading lists are full of similar fare,” Scalia added, pointing to graphic descriptions in Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, and Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion in which he also rejected the California law but sympathized with the state’s aims to protect children from violent imagery. His descriptions tried to make the same point as Trump’s presentation, albeit with the written word instead of video. “Victims are dismembered, decapitated, disemboweled, set on fire, and chopped into little pieces,” he explained. “They cry out in agony and beg for mercy. Blood gushes, splatters, and pools.”
Scalia wasn’t persuaded. “Justice Alito recounts all these disgusting video games in order to disgust us,” he countered, “but disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.”