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Violent video game alleged as cause of teens’ shooting spree

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A group of Tennessee families has filed a $246 million lawsuit against the makers of the popular video game “Grand Theft Auto III,” Sony Corporation of America and Wal-Mart, alleging that the game inspired two teenage boys to fatally shoot one motorist and seriously wound another.

Plaintiff attorney Jack Thompson told the Associated Press that he sent letters to Sony and Wal-Mart prior to the June 25 shooting warning them that the game could inspire violent acts. But both companies “chose to ignore this danger,” he said.

The shooters, stepbrothers William Buckner, 16, and Joshua Buckner, 14, of Newport, Tenn., reportedly told police they wanted to shoot into traffic along Tennessee’s Interstate 40 just as they shot at moving cars while playing Grand Theft Auto III. The boys pled guilty in juvenile court to reckless homicide, endangerment and assault and were sentenced in August to an indefinite term in state custody.

Aaron Hamel, 45, of Knoxville, Tenn., was killed and Kimberly Bede, 19, of Moneta, Va., was seriously wounded when the Buckners took rifles from their home and fired .22-caliber bullets into traffic 40 miles east of Knoxville.

“These kids simply decided to take the thrill of that game out to Interstate 40 and started pointing at cars,” said Thompson, who filed a similar lawsuit against video game makers stemming from a 1997 school shooting near Paducah, Ky., by a 14-year-old.

Grand Theft Auto maker Take-Two, which has sold more than 25 million copies of the game, told TechNewsWorld in a statement that the lawsuit is “without merit” and “similar to lawsuits brought and uniformly dismissed by courts in other jurisdictions.”

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 20 and co-signed by Thompson and Tennessee attorney Richard Talley, alleges that “the defendants negligently and carelessly placed [the game] on the market when they knew or with ordinary care should have known their product was unreasonably dangerous and/or defective and would result in harm to the plaintiffs.”

Both Sony and Wal-Mart have declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), however, called the shooting “an unspeakable tragedy” but said that there is no evidence to suggest that violent games lead to violent behavior.

“We cannot comment on the specifics of this case,” a statement from ESA’s president, Douglas Lowenstein, said, “but instead of finger-pointing at a game played by millions of Americans every day, we should be asking what led to the actions of these two children. Given the science and given the fact that these teenagers had unsupervised access to shotguns and made the decision to fire them on innocent motorists, blaming video games is misguided and counterproductive.”

James Parker, professor of worldview and culture at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the Grand Theft Auto case highlights the need for government to allow free speech but simultaneously restrict speech that incites criminal action.

“By their very nature, video games are interactive and might lend themselves to acting out more so than reading, for example. Clearly, something that incites criminal action is not covered by free speech. Yelling, ‘Fire,’ in a theater, for example, is not protected by free speech,” Parker said. “In this case, jurors will have to weigh very carefully the bounds of free speech.”

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately dismissed Thompson’s 1997 claim regarding the Paducah shooting, ruling that it was “simply too far a leap from shooting characters on a video screen to shooting people in a classroom.”

But the Tennessee case is much different, Talley told The San Francisco Chronicle.

“The child in [the Paducah] case said video games didn’t have any impact. These kids [the Buckners] said point-blank this is just like Grand Theft Auto III,” Talley noted said.