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Industry Fighting Violent Game Bill in Washington State

24 Apr, 2003 By: Joan Villa

Video and game industry groups are fighting a Washington state bill that would fine retailers $500 for selling or renting Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and certain other violent games to children under 17.

The Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) last week sent an urgent appeal to Washington Gov. Gary Locke to veto the bill. But a spokeswoman for the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, said she is expecting the governor to sign the bill, which passed the state Senate by a vote of 42-7 and the House by 81-16. If so, it would become law this summer.

The VSDA maintains that the proposed law, which bans the sale of violent games that reward players for killing police and fire fighters, would “usurp the rights of parents,” said public affairs VP Sean Bersell. “It's up to parents, not the state and certainly not video store clerks, to decide what's right for children,” he added.

Further, the law would deny minors their First Amendment right to free speech, which courts have protected unless materials are deemed sexually explicit and obscene, he said.

“We understand the concern about violence in video games and we understand the concern about games that use law enforcement officers as targets, but the thing about the First Amendment is it doesn't only protect what we like, it also protects that which we may not like,” Bersell said. “It is our position -- and there's a whole line of court cases that agree with this -- if it's a violent game then the state cannot prohibit minors from having access to that game.”

But Rep. Dickerson calls that argument “baloney.” After studying several legal cases, she said she purposely wrote the bill with narrow language restricting violence against law enforcement so it would stand up to court challenges. The bill was a last resort, she said, after five years of trying to get voluntary compliance from video stores in Seattle's Puget Sound area.

After the Columbine high school shootings, she recalled, “the retailers of Washington state made a promise they would get their act together and have voluntary compliance within six to nine months after Columbine.” According to Dickerson, “that did not happen.”

Instead, a recent sting conducted by the Seattle-based Mothers Against Violence in America found that children 14 and 15 years old could buy “M” or mature-rated games such as Vice City and Blood Rayne in 12 out of 13 stores where they shopped, Dickerson said. Violators spanned a handful of local stores and major chains, including Blockbuster, Electronics Boutique, FYE, Hollywood Video and Target, she added. Only KB Toys asked the child's age and refused to sell a copy of Resident Evil.

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