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Court weighs ban on violent video games

the associated press

A federal appeals panel Wednesday considered whether California could ban the sale of violent video games to minors.

The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held a rare hearing in Sacramento to take arguments over a 2005 state law.

It prohibits the sale or rental of violent video games to anyone under 18 and requires that such games be clearly labeled. Video game manufacturers contend that it violates minors’ 1st Amendment rights and won a decision in a lower court last year.

Courts in several other states have struck down similar laws.

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Appellate Judge Consuelo Callahan said upholding California’s law would mark a significant expansion of the kind of material that federal courts had traditionally regulated.

“Aren’t you asking this court to go where no court has gone before?” Callahan asked the state’s attorney at the beginning of the hearing.

California Deputy Atty. Gen. Zackery Morazzini urged the panel to take that step. He said states had every right to help parents who want to keep their children from playing violent video games.

The U.S. Supreme Court already has limited children’s access to sexually explicit material. Violent video games are just as obscene, Morazzini argued.

“I believe the Supreme Court has left that door wide open,” he told the panel.

The Video Software Dealers Assn. and Entertainment Software Assn. say imposing restrictions on video games could lead to dangerous territory, in which states could seek to restrict other material under the guise of protecting children.

“Maybe a state will say we shouldn’t let you sell, without a parent’s permission, books about homosexuality or sex education or birth control,” Paul Smith, the industry’s attorney, said after the hearing. “I think it’s a very scary prospect.”

That potential for creating a slippery slope also was explored by the justices.

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“Is there anything out of limits for the Legislature to prohibit to minors?” Judge Alex Kozinski said. “What about games where people eat unhealthy foods and get fat?”

“What’s the difference between a violent video game and a violent book?” asked Judge Sidney Thomas.

In response, the state’s attorney argued that video games were interactive, requiring a child to participate in the violence as opposed to simply reading a book or watching a movie.

The appeals court is expected to make its ruling in the next few months.

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