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Video game sales ban advances to La. Senate

May 31, 2006

Glen Strickland (right) listens after testifying Tuesday in favor of a proposal by Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport (left), to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. Strickland testified that his brother, a police officer in Alabama, was fatally shot by a 17-year-old who played violent video games. (AP Photo/Liz Condo)



By Mike Hasten

BATON ROUGE – Some people use violent video games as a “training ground” for real-life violence, says state Rep. Roy Burrell, so Louisiana should prohibit the sale of such games to minors.

The Senate Judiciary A Committee unanimously agreed with Burrell over the objections of video game representatives Tuesday and sent House Bill 1381 to the Senate for final debate. The House of Representatives already approved the bill with a 102-0 vote. If it is not amended in the Senate, it will go to the governor’s office for signing into law.

Samples from the video game “Grand Theft Auto” showed characters beating, stomping and shooting police officers, attacking one with a chainsaw and then using it on a woman who tried to aid the officer. Another had sounds of sexual activity coming from a rocking vehicle and after a cursing man threw a scantily dressed woman out of the vehicle; he pursued her across a parking lot and beat and stomped her.

“There are a lot of other scenes in the video we chose not to show in public,” Burrell told the committee. One scene awarded the player points for raping a woman.

Opponents of the measure, representatives of the Entertainment Software Association, said video games are like books, movies and television shows and are protected by First Amendment rights of expression.

New Orleans attorney William Rittenburg predicted that Burrell’s bill, if it becomes law, would be ruled unconstitutional like similar laws in Michigan, Illinois, Washington and Colorado. He said he would make “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in a legal challenge of a Louisiana law, as he has in the challenge of 30 other state laws, so the Legislature should “wait for another state to be successful” in passing a constitutional law.

Burrell countered “It is about time for the state of Louisiana to be first in something good, in this case the protection of our children.”

Rittenburg complained “the statute is vague because it doesn’t define what is violence.”

Miami attorney Jack Thompson, who aided Burrell in drafting his bill, said he avoided the pitfalls in other states’ laws and sculpted one to abide by the constitution. It avoids trying to define violence, which was a flaw in the other laws.

Instead, he said, the bill employs the same three standards as the obscenity law, whether:

  • an average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the video or computer game, taken as a whole, appeals to the minor’s morbid interest in violence;

  • a game depicts violence in a manner patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable for minors; or

  • a game, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

  • Opponents also complained that clerks would have no definite guidelines on what could be sold and that the bill would make it a felony – with a fine of between $100 and $2,000 and imprisonment for up to one year – for a clerk to sell such a game to someone under age 18.

    Jessica Elliot of the Louisiana Retailers Association said retailers should be able to know “up front” which games couldn’t be sold to minors. “If some clerk falls asleep at the switch, are we going to send her to prison?”

    The opponents also downplayed Thompson’s submission of studies showing that violent video games increase violence by submitting their own studies showing that it doesn’t.

    Thompson said the difference is that his studies were publicly funded by universities and the American Medical Association whereas the opponents’ studies were funded by the video game industry.

    The military uses violent video games to desensitize soldiers to killing, Thompson said, which provides evidence that they can affect attitude.

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    May 31, 2006
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