Court Kills Violent Game Ban

Proposal would have banned violent game sales to minors

Friday, Feb 20, 2009  |  Updated 4:19 PM PDT
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Court Kills Violent Game Ban

A violent video game ban was shot down by California courts.

A federal appeals court on Friday struck down a California law that sought to ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.
 
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2005 law violates minors' rights under the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution. The unanimous ruling by the three-judge panel upholds an earlier ruling in U.S. District Court.

The state law was authored by Democratic Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, who is a child psychologist. Yee said he wanted Attorney General Jerry Brown to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder," Yee said in a statement.

The law would have prohibited the sale or rental of violent games to anyone under 18. It also would have created strict labeling requirements for video game manufacturers.

In a written opinion, Judge Consuelo Callahan said there were less restrictive ways to protect children from "unquestionably violent" video games that digitally depict people being killed or maimed. For example, the justices said the industry has a voluntary rating system and that parents can block certain games on video consoles.

The state law has never gone into effect and was challenged shortly after it was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. A U.S. District Court blocked it after the industry sued California over constitutional concerns.

The Encino-based Video Software Dealers Association, now known as the Entertainment Merchants Association following a merger, and the Washington, D.C.-based Entertainment Software Association argued that California's restrictions could open the door for states to limit minors' access to other material under the guise of protecting children.

The court agreed, saying California was "asking us to boldly go where no court has gone before."

"The state, in essence, asks us to create a new category of non-protected material based on its depiction of violence," Callahan wrote in the 30-page ruling.

California lawmakers approved the law, in part, by relying on several studies suggesting violent games can be linked to aggression, anti-social behavior and desensitization to violence. The justices dismissed that research.

"None of the research establishes or suggests a causal link between minors playing violent video games and actual psychological or neurological harm, and inferences to that effect would not be reasonable," Callahan said in her ruling.

Michael D. Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, said the ruling underscores that parents, with help from the industry, are the ones who should control what games their children play.

"This 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," Gallagher said in a statement.

Courts in several other states have struck down similar laws. A spokesman for Brown could not immediately say whether California would appeal to the Supreme Court.
 

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