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High court urged to review video game law

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–California Attorney General Jerry Brown is the gatekeeper for whether the U.S. Supreme Court will be asked to review a state law to prevent minors from buying or renting violent video games.

Brown, a former Democrat governor and opponent of California’s Proposition 8 ban on “same-sex marriage” last year, has not yet indicated whether he will ask the nation’s high court to review a ruling by a three-judge federal appeals panel Feb. 20 that upheld a lower court in striking down the 2005 California law.

The unanimous ruling, written by Judge Consuelo Callahan of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, acknowledged that “some of the games” addressed by the California legislature’s bill are “unquestionably violent by everyday standards, digitally depicting what most people would agree amounts to murder, torture, or mutilation.”

But, Callahan wrote, Assembly Bill 1179 nevertheless “violates rights protected by the First Amendment.”

Callahan wrote that the state of California “has not demonstrated a compelling interest” and that “less restrictive means” exist to achieve the bill’s aims, such as the voluntary ratings system developed by the Entertainment Software Association’s rating board.

The Video Software Dealers Association (now known as the Entertainment Merchants Association) filed suit against the state before the law, which allowed for fines of up to $1,000, was scheduled to go into effect in October 2005.

The sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Leland Yee, D.-San Francisco, who also is a child psychologist, said he is urging Brown to appeal the Ninth Circuit panel’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“California’s violent video game law properly seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of excessively violent, interactive video games,” Yee said in a statement disagreeing with the ruling. “[W]e should not stop our efforts to assist parents in keeping these harmful video games out of the hands of children. I believe this law will inevitably be upheld as Constitutional by the US Supreme Court. In fact, the high court recently agreed, in Roper v. Simmons (2005), that we need to treat children differently in the eyes of the law due to brain development.”

Commenting on Callahan’s assessment of research submitted in behalf of the bill — that “most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology as they relate to the State’s claimed interest” — Yee said, “Based on an extensive body of peer-reviewed research from leading social scientists and medical associations, we narrowly tailored this law to serve the State’s compelling interest in protecting children. I am hopeful that the Attorney General will appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the lower court’s decision. We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder.”

News of the ruling was carried nationwide and prompted pro-family advocates to challenge the appeals panel’s stance.

Dwayne Hastings, a vice president with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty, called it a “staggering decision” and noted that the appeals panel cited the earlier federal district court ruling that said shielding children under 18 from “exposure to violent descriptions and images” would leave these youngsters “unequipped to cope with the world as we know it.”

“I can’t imagine what value flows out of a youngster watching or vicariously participating in such shockingly violent and perverse activity,” Hastings said. “The court conveniently dismissed research that indicates that violent video games tend to increase the likelihood of children engaging in anti-social aggression and, perhaps more importantly, it turned a blind eye to common sense in holding that attempts to protect children from brutally violent depictions of behavior violates their constitutionally secured rights….

“Unfortunately many parents are not aware of the level of depravity reflected in these video games,” Hastings said. “As a parent, I understand my responsibilities, but I would hope that my government would be supportive of me protecting my children and not be in such a feverish rush to throw open the gates to allow youngsters to purchase destructive, immoral and unhealthy products.”

Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, targeted the video game industry in a statement, noting, “Let’s be clear on what — exactly — is going on here: The video game industry has established a policy to ‘protect’ children from a harmful product, yet they file lawsuit after lawsuit to oppose any enforcement of that same policy. And they base their legal argument on a child’s ‘right’ to purchase the very product that they openly admit should not be purchased by a child. This is the most outrageous example of a non sequitur that I’ve ever seen, and the result is a tragic consequence on America’s children.”

Winter continued, “How does the video game industry even have legal standing to sue on behalf of children who wouldn’t be able to pay them for the very products they admit that kids shouldn’t be buying? I’ll tell you how: greed. The only motivation for the industry to sue is to keep collecting blood money from kids who aren’t supposed to be able to buy these games without their parents present at the time of purchase.

“There are very responsible retailers out there — Wal-Mart and Game Stop come to mind — who take their obligation not to sell these games to kids very seriously,” Winter said. But he noted that a 2008 “Secret Shopper” survey by the Parents Television Council found that video game retailers sold Mature (M)-rated video games to minors 36 percent of the time.

Winter also referenced the court’s dismissal of research evidence in support of the bill, noting, “Shockingly, the Court’s ruling claims that there isn’t enough research to support that children are affected by video game violence. Yet countless independent studies confirm what most parents instinctively know to be true: repeated exposure to graphic sexual, violent and profanity-laced video games has a harmful and long-term effect on children. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine — and countless other objective studies — have proven violent video games do have an effect by using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology to observe which areas of the brain are stimulated when a subject plays violent video games.

“This federal court decision is a disgrace,” Winter said, “and should be of great concern to all parents — not just in California but across our nation.”

Representatives of the video game industry, however, took a different view, bemoaning “state-sponsored nannyism,” as Bo Andersen, president of the Entertainment Merchants Association, called it in the San Francisco Chronicle. Michael D. Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, told the Associated Press the appeals court ruling “is a clear signal that in California and across the country, the reckless pursuit of anti-video game legislation like this is an exercise in wasting taxpayer money, government time and state resources.”
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston, with reporting by Yvette Rattray, an intern in the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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