Lawmakers from Pennsylvania have put forth a bill that proposes a 10% excise tax on violent video games. House Bill 109 seeks to impose the so-called “sin tax” on games sold at retail that are rated by the ESRB as M for Mature or Adults-Only. The money would go into a fund called the “Digital Protection for School Safety Account” that aims to enhance security measures at schools in the wake of the school shootings in Parkland, Florida and Newtown, Connecticut.
State representative Chris Quinn, a republican, initially put forth the bill in 2018, but it never made it out of committee during the 2018 legislative session. The new version is similarly worded.
The 10 percent tax would be in addition to applicable state and local taxes. The sales tax rate in Pennsylvania is 6%, which means a standard $60 game costs around $64. With the extra 10 percent tax on violent games, the cost of an M-rated game like Red Dead Redemption 2 would make the game end up costing about $70.
Explaining the bill last year, Quinn said violent video games might be an element in the rise of school shootings in America. “One factor that may be contributing to the rise in, and intensity of, school violence is the material kids see, and act out, in video games,” he said.
Quinn cited the National Center for Health Research’s statement that studies demonstrate a link between violent video games and increases in aggressive thoughts and behaviors. Quinn’s comments conveniently leave out the same statement’s disclaimer that other factors like mental illness, access to weapons, and adverse environments should be considered as other risk factors. Not only that, but the National Center for Health Research’s own reporting states that studies have not shown that aggression leads to increased instances of deadly violence or criminal activity.
Expectedly, the Entertainment Software Association, which lobbies on behalf of the video game industry, is taking a hard line against this bill. In a statement to Variety, the ESA the bill is a violation of the US Constitution.
“Numerous authorities–including scientists, medical professionals, government agencies, and the US Supreme Court–found that video games do not cause violence,” it said. “We encourage Pennsylvania legislators to work with us to raise awareness about parental controls and the ESRB video game rating system, which are effective tools to ensure parents maintain control over the video games played in their home.”
After the Sandy Hook shooting, a lawmaker from Connecticut proposed a similar tax in 2013. Also that year, a state representative from Missouri proposed a sales tax on games rated M and above. In both cases, the funds would have gone towards mental health programs. However, the bills never became law.