The Saturday morning TV cartoons enjoyed by kids years ago often showed a dark side: Elmer Fudd taking a shotgun blast to the face while Bugs Bunny laughed, or the Roadrunner dropping an anvil on Wile E. Coyote’s head, flattening him like a pancake. Young viewers laughed because these were gags in which Fudd emerged blackened but no worse for wear, and Coyote straightened up and ran along to the next caper.

It’s a whole new entertainment world today for children. In some popular video games, the player takes the first-person perspective as he virtually robs, assaults, murders and causes general mayhem. And unlike the cartoons, the characters the player virtually kills stay dead, accompanied by realistic images and sounds of violent criminal acts committed by one’s own virtual hands. {{more}}

States hold an interest in controlling the sale or rental of adult-rated violent games to children. California enacted a law in 2005 in which retailers could be fined $1,000 for selling or renting such games to those under 18.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law, citing violations of the first amendment to the Constitution. While the court noted the possibility that a state could enact a less restrictive law to control the purchase of violent video games, it in effect said California’s law went too far.

Perhaps it did. But the state ought to join parents in controlling what kinds of free speech children may legitimately access. One justice on the court noted the contradiction that a 13-year-old boy may not legally purchase a magazine depicting a nude woman, but he can purchase from an unscrupulous retailer a video game that allows him to virtually assault and kill a woman, presumably clothed.

Anti-pornography laws exist in part to protect children from the harm of that particular social scourge. Just because the potential harmful effects of first-person shooter games might have on developing adolescent minds might not be fully known at this time – common sense suggests prolonged play of such games does harm a young person – regulation of this industry’s objectionable games should march forward.

Enact regulations, then test their limits in court. Concerned parents should support such regulation even while they fulfill their primary duty to refrain from buying or renting violent video games for children. And they should remain persistent, taking a cue from the decades-long dedication of the pro-life movement.

Stylized violence, like abortion, is not something families and young people ought to learn to live with.