Arkansas legislators hope to defeat violent video games

Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Two Arkansas lawmakers are taking aim at violent video games in a
measure prefiled last month for the 2001 legislative session.

The measure, introduced by Republicans Marvin Parks and Randy Minton,
would mandate the rating of video games and establish a criminal offense for
the selling or furnishing of violent video games to minors.

“The repeated exposure to graphic violence and participation in
violent interactive games may contribute to violent behavior by our youth and
desensitizes them to acts of violence,” the proposed measure states.

The measure defines “graphic violence” as depictions of
“decapitation, bloodshedding, dismemberment or grotesque

It also provides that the state attorney general “shall
establish a ratings system to provide consumer information regarding the
content of video and consumer software games.”

The bill would make it a criminal offense to sell, rent or
“otherwise provide for use for a charge to a minor any video game which
contains scenes or depictions of graphic violence as determined by the Attorney

At least one constitutional expert says the measure presents several
constitutional concerns.

“The bill has many of the same shortcomings as any mandatory
ratings system,” said First Amendment expert Robert O’Neil.
“The proposal makes the central assumption that a federal judge in
Indianapolis made — that graphic violence can be regulated in the same
manner in the same way as obscenity or child pornography.”

Last October, U.S. District Judge David Hamilton issued a preliminary
ruling allowing an Indianapolis ordinance banning minors from playing violent
and sexually explicit video games without parental permission to take effect
immediately. Hamilton wrote: “It would be an odd conception of the First
Amendment … that would allow a state to prevent a boy from purchasing a
magazine containing pictures of topless women in provocative poses, but give
that same boy a constitutional right to train to become a sniper at the local
arcade without his parents’ permission.”

The Indianapolis case has been appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals.

O’Neil, founder of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the
Protection of Free Expression, also says the Arkansas measure is
“relatively unusual” in that it delegates the task of creating a
ratings system to the state attorney general.

“The measure assumes that the state attorney general, more than
the Legislature, has a process to come up with a constitutionally valid ratings
system. The attorney general may be far less equipped to deal with this than
the legislature assumes.”

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