The June 12 editorial "Protecting Kids From Violence" suggests that the "market power of consumers" offers parents all the leverage needed to combat the torrent of obscenely violent materials now available to children. V-chip technology and Internet filtering software are tools, the argument goes, to blunt the hard edge of an increasingly debased culture.
As a market capitalist, I certainly appreciate The Post's faith in the market. But when it comes to our children's safety, the marketplace argument falls short. What we know about violent obscenity is that it sells, and sells big, on the Internet, on television and in the movies. President Clinton recently said of violence in the entertainment industry, "Just because something sells doesn't make it right."
Real life tragedies have become frightening symbols of our crisis of the soul, mirroring constant and graphic destructive television, movies music, and video games. It is naive to think the two are unrelated.
As popular entertainment depicts more and more disrespect for life and for the rights and well-being of others, some of our children are starting to believe this behavior is acceptable and normal. They don't understand that acts of violence have tragic consequences, as was evidenced by the aftermath of the tragedy in Conyers, Ga., where the young shooter could hardly articulate his shock and fear about what had happened.
Can we solve problems of the soul from Washington? Of course not. But Congress is not impotent. Our juvenile justice legislation -- now before the House -- will make the largest ever federal investment in state and local juvenile justice reform. Congress will tighten up some existing gun-law loopholes, such as background checks at gun shows, provide for greater gun safety by requiring all gun sales to include a trigger lock and create tougher penalties for gun crimes. These common-sense measures will help us as we strive to ensure that guns are maintained and used properly by law-abiding citizens.
My amendment would create a federal law to prohibit the sale of obscenely sexual and violent material to minors under the age of 17. My amendment covers violent material because I believe that if the Constitution permits us to restrict the type of sexual material kids can purchase, then it makes sense that we can also prohibit the distribution of material to minors that is so graphically violent that it glorifies it to a harmful level.
This legislation defines "violent" material as a "visual depiction of an actual or simulated display of, or a detailed verbal description or narrative account of a sadistic or masochistic flagellation by or upon a person, torture by or upon a person, acts of mutilation of the human body, or rape." I am confident that when challenged in court this narrow definition will be upheld as constitutional. "Sexual" material is defined in a manner almost identical to a New York statute that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This new statute does not restrict the rights of adults or parents to view sexual or violent material, nor does it prohibit anyone from producing such items. Rather, it lets parents make decisions about what material is appropriate for their children.
Are there exceptions to the standard? You bet. The Hyde Amendment permits an exception when the material, as a whole, has "literary, artistic, political or scientific value" for minors.
The Post's editorial suggests that the juvenile justice legislation is not the most appropriate venue for consideration of this legislation. My response is, if not now, when? To be truly responsive, Congress must identify and address the influences that cause young people to become violent.
The Post argues that "criminal law is too blunt an instrument for this purpose." The law is a teacher, and the lesson we ought to learn is that no child should be exposed to violent obscenity.
Parents ultimately bear the responsibility for the environment in which their children are raised. Absentee parents cannot oversee what their children are absorbing from television, computers and music. Children who are left without adult supervision are more prone to become victims of pushers of glorified and gratuitous violence. We can pass laws to keep this garbage out of the hands of kids, but parents have to guide their children away from the polluting environment the greedy purveyors of violence are eager to sell. The sellers will come up with all kinds of excuses about why it is not a good idea to protect our children from their offal, but I hope members of Congress will finally say -- enough!
The writer, a Republican representative from Illinois, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.