Another One Bites the Dust

            Yet another law banning or restricting the sale of “violent” video games has been thwarted by the courts.  An Oklahoma law, signed by Governor Brad Henry (D) and scheduled to take effect November 1, was blocked from enforcement by a preliminary injunction issued on October 11, 2006. 

The disputed section of the law would have amended Oklahoma Statutes pertaining to materials considered to be harmful to minors (Title 21), to include a new category of materials, specifically pertaining to descriptions or presentations of inappropriate violence in interactive video or computer games.  The law, originally filed as HB 3004, Materials Harmful to Minors, by Representative Fred Morgan (R), sought to limit the sale of violent games to minors and required stores to stock games out of sight, in addition to amending the state statutes. 

Plaintiffs in the case, The Entertainment Merchants Association and The Entertainment Software Association, filed motions seeking a preliminary injunction based on the substantial likelihood that the law violates the First Amendment.  Previous landmark cases have decided that any person’s “loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”1

Judge Robin Cauthron of the Western District of Oklahoma granted a preliminary injunction based on this notion, thus effectively blocking the law from taking enforcement.  Although Judge Cauthron did not subject the law to a full First Amendment analysis, he did note that “It is apparent that the Plaintiffs are substantially likely to prevail in this case even if the Act is subjected to a lower level of scrutiny.”2

Every previous attempt by state governments to restrict the sale of video games has been struck down in the courts.  Similarly, a Louisiana law that sought to restrict the sale of video games was enjoined on August 24, 2006, when Judge James Brady granted an injunction, blocking enforcement of the law.3   To date, laws have been overturned or blocked by the courts in California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Washington. 

The scoreboard now shows the gaming industry with a total of nine points, while these frivolous lawmakers remain at zero, though not for lack of offensive efforts.  Perhaps these lawmakers will soon get the hint that all these efforts are repugnant to cherished First Amendment rights.    

[1] Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976)

[2] Ruling on Motion for Preliminary Injunction, p.6, ESA and EMA v. Henry, Edmondson and Lane, Case No. 5:06-cv-00675-C (W.D. Okla. 2006)

[3]See “Judge Rules Against Louisiana Video Game Law,” (August 25, 2006)

© Lawrence G. Walters (2011). All rights reserved.