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High court to weigh violent video games

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court announced April 26 it will rule on a California state law that bars the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

The high court will review in its next term a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that invalidated a California law. The law not only prohibits children under 18 from purchasing or renting violent video games, but it also requires such games to carry an “18” label and calls for fines of as much as $1,000 per violation by retailers. The court’s next term begins in October.

The 2005 law never took effect because a federal judge ruled it violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Last year, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit unanimously upheld the judge’s opinion, although it said some games digitally exhibit “what most people would agree amounts to murder, torture or mutilation.”

California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who petitioned the high court to accept the case, called the law a “common-sense” measure that helps “parents protect their children.”

Michael Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, said, “Courts throughout the country have ruled consistently that content-based regulation of computer and video games is unconstitutional.

“We are hopeful that the court will reject California’s invitation to break from these settled principles by treating depictions of violence, especially those in creative works, as unprotected by the First Amendment,” he said.

The Parents Television Council (PTC), however, commended the Supreme Court’s action, with President Tim Winter saying he hopes “the justices see through the video game industry’s hypocrisy and smoke screens to uphold this important measure.”

“The California statute does nothing more than provide meaningful consequences for the industry’s own retail standards that — supposedly — are in place to protect children,” Winter said. “But when those standards are regularly or routinely ignored by such a large number of game retailers, the result is that harmful products remain easily within a child’s reach.”

The PTC has conducted secret research that found video game retailers sold M-rated video games to minors 36 percent of the time.

In urging the high court to consider the case, Brown said video game violence should be held to the same legal standard applied by courts to sexually explicit material made available to minors.

The Supreme Court’s decision to accept the case came a week after the justices voted 8-1 to strike down a federal law barring videos showing cruelty to animals.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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