Bill would bar minors from violent video games in public

Mindful of the Newtown massacre, a legislative committee Tuesday considered a bill that would bar minors from using violent, point-and-shoot video games at public arcades and other businesses.

Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, who proposed the bill before the Children’s Committee, said these games inadvertently teach children that shooting people is easy, virtually harmless and has no serious consequence.

“With this bill, I aim to put the public’s health, safety and well-being ahead of the child’s desire to aim a simulated gun at simulated people,” Harp said. “To allow access to these real-life simulators is to teach point-and-shoot proficiency.”

arcade photo

An arcade in Hartford filled with point-and-shoot video games

Others, however, say the bill would stifle First Amendment rights and would not be effective in reducing violent behavior among youth.

This is not the first time Harp has proposed banning these games. In 2001 the Democratically-controlled legislature overwhelmingly approved a similar bill before it was vetoed by Gov. John G. Rowland.

But that was before the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

“With the shock and horror of recent local events still fresh in our minds and memory of Connecticut victims still held in our heart, there’s no doubt in my mind that these games can put real people at risk,” Harp said.

Published reports have said that gunman Adam Lanza, 20, who killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, spent hours playing violent video games.

Children’s Committee Chairwoman Rep. Diana S. Urban, D-North Stonington, said she recently heard testimony from an expert who said that school shooters have actually reported that they had been “envisioning some of the people they would be shooting as they played the game.”

The bill also calls for studying the impact of violent video games on youth behavior. This is the third bill the legislature is considering involving violent video games. Of the other two, one calls for forming a task force to study the effects of violent video games on youth behavior while the other calls for a 10 percent sales tax on videos rated “mature.”

Children’s Committee member Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, said he wondered whether the study should also look at the impact of violence in movies and news coverage.

If Connecticut adopts a special tax on violent video games, it would become the first state to do so in “recent years”, reports the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research. The office also reports they found “no case law specifically addressing the constitutionality of legislation imposing additional taxation on violent video games.”

Harp said she is more concerned about the point-and-shoot games because players actually use a model of a gun and shoot at human-like figures. This desensitizes them to the idea of real violence with a gun, Harp said.

Others, however, opposed the bill, saying it would be unconstitutional and ineffective.

David J. McGuire, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said research has shown little evidence of a link between violent video games and violence in children.

McGuire said that since the mid-1990s, there has been an increase in the use of these videos and yet a decrease in serious violent crime.

He also said the bill would be difficult to enforce and would require arcades to remove such games or to check IDs.

The bill would also violate the constitutional right to free speech, he said. Two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down California’s ban on selling video games to minors, calling it unconstitutional.

“They likened them to novels, plays and other works of art,” McGuire said.

An online gamers website hosted by the Entertainment Consumers Association, a nonprofit located in Connecticut, called the proposal not well-founded in truth.

“These laws are misguided, reactionary, costs consumers and taxpayers their hard earned money, and will do little to curb gun violence in the state,” reports.

Urban, however, said while there have been studies showing no link to violence there have been others that have. She called on companies that sell these games to “be responsible” and pull them from the market.

“Corporations that push these violent point-and-shoot games are not in it to make society better; they are in it to earn a profit,” Urban said.

Asked about the video game bill, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said,

“I haven’t looked at it. I don’t want to prejudge that situation.”

Asked if he thinks violent video games are too accessible to children, he said, “I think the industry has done a wonderful job in de-stigmatizing violence in our society — much more than the movie industry. I think the game industry has basically sent out the message for the better part of a generation that violence is acceptable, it’s acceptable coming into your home, it’s acceptable being played out over long periods of time.

“I don’t think any good has been accomplished in that except for the industry itself.”

CTMirror writer Jacqueline Rabe Thomas contributed to this report.