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Two bills target video games following Sandy Hook tragedy

Two bills target video games following Sandy Hook tragedy

January 17, 2013 | By Kris Graft

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, lawmakers have introduced two new bills that seek to impose restrictions on the sale of video games.

Diane Franklin, a Republican from the Missouri House of Representatives, seeks to amend existing Missouri tax law with an "emergency clause" that would apply a 1 percent tax on "violent video games" [PDF].

Revenue from the tax would be applied to a state fund dedicated solely to the "treatment of mental health conditions associated with exposure to violent video games."

The bill defines "violent video games" as any game that the Entertainment Software Rating Board rates as "Teen," "Mature" and "Adults Only." That includes bloody games such as Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil, but also games like Zumba Fitness 2, We Sing 80s and Trivial Pursuit: Bet You Know It.

The ESRB rates games not only based on violence levels, but also drug references, sexual themes and alcohol reference, among other factors.

Referring to the Sandy Hook shooting, Franklin told the Associated Press, "History shows there is a mental health component to these shootings."

The U.S. Supreme Court said in June 2011 that video games are protected by the First Amendment. "Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively," read the ruling. "Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media."

In the years prior to the Supreme Court ruling, similar bills were proposed that would place restrictions on the sales of video games. In 2012, Oklahoma state Rep. William Fourkiller proposed a 1 percent tax on "violent video games," but it failed shortly after its introduction.

The ESA has many times fought against such proposed measures, won, then sent the bill for the legal fees back to the state. Some say that's a waste of taxpayer money.

Franklin's proposal isn't the only bill that was proposed in the wake of Sandy Hook. Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson from Utah reintroduced the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act [PDF] to the House. The bill would make it illegal to sell, ship, distribute or rent any game that doesn't have an ESRB label. The bill, which only referred to physical packaging, also seeks to ban sales and rentals of Mature- and Adults Only-rated video games to consumers under the age of 17 and 18, respectively. Violators would be fined no more than $5,000 per violation.

Matheson originally introduced the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act back in 2008, though it failed to pass.

Yesterday, in response to the Sandy Hook shootings, President Obama introduced sweeping gun policy proposals, days after a game industry meeting with Vice President Biden's task force. In the President's speech he said, "Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds. We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science."

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