Laws preventing minors from playing violent video games in public arcades may violate First Amendment rights of free speech, a legislative committee was told Tuesday.
David J. McGuire, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, told the Children's Committee that despite concerns such video games are linked to physical violence, hundreds of studies have failed to establish such a connection.
Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has protected the purchase and use of such games by those under 18 years of age, ruling that such an exclusion would violate their First Amendment rights.
But proponents of the bill, pushed this year as a potential precaution after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, said the point-and-shoot games have been shown to "desensitize" military and police trainees from the consequences of shooting firearms.
One committee member, Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, called for the video game and arcade industries to police themselves.
McGuire said as a parent, he respected the committee's goal to reduce violence in society. But two years ago, he pointed out, the nation's highest court ruled that violent video games have First Amendment free-speech protection like books, plays and works of art.
"Significantly, after reviewing several studies on the subject, the Supreme Court concluded there is little evidence of a link between violent video games and violent behavior in children, and ruled that such a tenuous correlation was not sufficient to impose a restriction on this protected medium," McGuire said.
"There's not enough research to show a direct causal link that video games give harm to minors," he added. "Another interesting fact is that since the mid-1990s, there's been an increase in the popularity of these video games, yet there's been a decrease in the rate of serious violent crimes by youth perpetrators."
But Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven, sponsor of the legislation, said she believes there is a link between video violence and aggressive behavior in children.
"This bill, should it become law, will prohibit the use of certain video games by minors," she said. "To allow access to these life-like simulators is to teach point-and-shoot proficiency -- and with the shock and horror of recent local events still in our minds and the memory of Connecticut victims still held in our hearts -- there is no doubt in my mind that these games can put real people at risk again in the future.
"These games inadvertently teach young children that shooting people is easy, virtually harmless and without serious consequence."
Harp recalled that 12 years ago, a similar bill was approved in the House and Senate, but was later vetoed by then-Gov. John G. Rowland.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, speaking to reporters in the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, said that violent video games are clearly responsible for the proliferation of bloodshed.
"I think the industry has done a wonderful job in destigmatizing violence in our society," Malloy said. "Much more than the movie industry, I think the game industry has basically sent out the message for the better part of a generation that violence is acceptable.
"It's acceptable coming into your home. It's acceptable being played out over long periods of time. I don't think any good has been accomplished in that except for the industry itself."
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