Lawmakers Cracking Down On Video Games Bill Would Ban Minors From Buying, Renting Violent Video Games.
TRENTON -- Two New Jersey lawmakers don't think minors should be able to rent or purchase video games adorned with phrases such as "you'll have to rob, steal and kill just to stay out of serious trouble."
But that is exactly what happened Sunday when a 14-year-old girl in Assemblywoman Linda Stender's district easily bought "Grand Theft Auto III" for PlayStation 2. The game is rated "M" for mature, meaning its contents are suitable for those 17 and up.
"And that's not the most recent version," said Stender, D-Fanwood, referring to recently released "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," which was given a "M" rating, then pulled from shelves and given an "AO" or "Adults Only" rating, after hidden sexual content was found. The game will go back on sale next month.
Since the days of Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers, "Games have grown increasingly violent," said Stender, who along with Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, R-Westfield, is sponsoring legislation that would ban the sale or rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to those younger than 18.
"We need protection for our youth from these games," said Ronald Coughlin, founder of the New Jersey Violence Prevention Institute, at Monday's Statehouse news conference unveiling the proposed law.
Bramnick called games that require players to carjack, shoot and kill opponents to advance to the next level "the unlocked door to violence."
But representatives of the video game trade, an industry that last year grossed $7.3 billion dollars in computer and video game sales and about 700 million dollars in video game rentals, according to the Video Software Dealers Association, say they won't let the legislation take effect without a fight.
Similar laws have been found unconstitutional in St. Louis, Indianapolis and Washington state, and both Michigan and Illinois are currently being challenged in court over their versions of the law.
Those against such measures say they violate the First Amendment rights of both retailers and customers, substitute government judgment for parental supervision and single out video games from other constitutionally protected works such as films, music and books.
"Other states and local governments have attempted this type of legislation, and in every case, these attempts have been struck down by the courts," said Sean Bersell, vice president of public affairs for the Video Software Dealers Association.
"Should this bill be enacted, the same fate awaits it," said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, a party in all five lawsuits that fought such laws. He calls New Jersey's proposal "unconstitutional and unnecessary."
"The solution is to educate parents about the existing rating system for video games and encourage parents to use those ratings when selecting games for their family," Bersell said.
Since 1994, the Entertainment Software Rating Board has rated video games on a scale ranging from "Early Childhood," or "EC," to "Adults Only." or "AO."
"In the last 10 years, we have seen this explosion of dreadful content," Stender said. Just as minors are limited by the law when it comes to tobacco and alcohol, there is room for limitation when it comes to "any kind of influence that can harm our kids," she said.
"If we don't stand up and say this is wrong and we need to protect our children, obviously big business isn't going to do it for us, because there is too much money to be made by selling these kinds of games to kids," Stender said.
The proposed law would fine retailers who knowingly sell or rent restricted video games to those underage $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense and $250 for any further offenses.