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Video game makers urged to shun gun industry

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, soon after December’s Newtown school massacre, had said some blame should be put upon a video-game industry that glorifies murder, “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows violence against its own people.”

But what about firearms in video games?

As the video-game industry begins its annual Electronic Entertainment Expo today in Los Angeles, two gun-control groups are calling upon game makers to stop signing lucrative licensing agreements and product-placement deals with gun manufacturers, so that images of actual military-style weapons don’t appear in games.

Battlefield 4A report published today by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and The Gun Truth Project says video games often feature real-world weapons identified by make and model, and have offered cross-promotional opportunities to players to buy them once the game is over.

“We are outraged that video game companies and gun manufacturers are entering into deals to market guns to our children, particularly given the real-life epidemic of gun violence in America,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “The gun industry and their lobbyists have proven time and again that they’re only motive is profit, not encouraging reforms or regulations that would make our children and families safer. To them, our children are pawns to be manipulated for profit.”

Like any other product placement deal, these licensing agreements are meant to increasing the visibility of firearms. One gun industry representative cited in the report said video games provide an opportunity to promote to children, “who are considered possible future owners.”

Yet the report’s authors claim games featuring real-world guns don’t sell any better than games with made-up weapon names – the economic benefit is almost exclusively on the gun manufacturers’ side, the report says.

Redwood City-based Electronic Arts last month announced it will no longer enter into such licensing agreements. “We not only applaud that decision, we are asking the rest of the video game industry to follow suit,” Watts said in a news release. “There is no reason why video game manufacturers should do the gun industry’s dirty work, promoting assault and military-style weapons to our children and teens.”

Actually, EA said it would cut its licensing ties to gunmakers – but continue featuring branded guns without a license.

Watts’ effort to get other companies to sign a pledge is supported by the Every Child Matters Education Fund is supporting the effort. “Thousands of children and teenagers are killed by guns every year,” said fund president Michael Petit. “How any company, knowing that, could continue to market guns to our kids is simply beyond me. It is unacceptable.”

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Reactions to the NRA’s press conference

The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre held a news conference this morning about his organization’s thinking on keeping America’s children safe in the wake of last Friday’s massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school:

From Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, whom House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi named earlier this week to chair a gun-violence task force:

“Everyone agrees our schools, movie theaters shopping malls, streets and communities need to be safer. But we need a comprehensive approach that goes beyond just arming more people with more guns to make this happen.

“Closing holes in our mental health system, addressing our culture’s glorification of violence, improving background checks for everyone who buys firearms, and reinstating the ban on assault weapons and assault magazines all must be part of a comprehensive approach to reduce and prevent gun violence.”

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who introduced bills this week to boost federal grants for school security and to offer federal reimbursement to governors who deploy National Guard troops to secure schools:

“The head of the NRA blamed everyone in sight – except his own organization – for gun violence in America, and showed himself to be completely out of touch by ignoring the proliferation of weapons of war on our streets.

“The NRA is now calling for stronger security at our schools. They should endorse my legislation, which would fund security upgrades for schools and trained law enforcement personnel to protect our kids.

“In the days ahead, I will work for a comprehensive strategy, which includes sensible gun laws, a focus on mental health and school safety.”

From Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez:

“To the NRA, gun violence is never about semi-automatic weapons and high capacity ammunition clips. Never. But to a majority of parents across the country, mass shootings and gun violence have everything to do with those types of assault weapons and people who have lost their minds. Congress needs to ban high capacity clips, reinstate a sensible ban on assault weapons, and dramatically increase access to quality mental health care in America as part of our effort to reduce gun violence.

“The fact is, the NRA’s approach would require armed guards not just in schools, but everywhere in America – at every store in every mall, every movie theatre, every supermarket, every church, synagogue, and mosque, and every sporting arena, because that is where America’s families and children spend their time outside of the home. And yet those locations would still be vulnerable to a deranged person wearing bulletproof vests and carrying hundreds of rounds of ammunition and semi-automatic pistols and rifles.

“For most of us, everything has changed since Newtown. Sadly, one of the only things that hasn’t changed is the way the NRA thinks about the epidemic of gun violence in America.”

From state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who authored a state law – struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 – to prohibit sale of certain violent video games to children:

“I find it mind-boggling that the NRA suddenly cares about the harmful effects of ultra-violent video games. When our law was before the Supreme Court – while several states, medical organizations, and child advocates submitted briefs in support of California’s efforts – the NRA was completely silent. Now, rather than face reality and be part of the solution to the widespread proliferation of assault weapons in America, they attempt to pass the buck. More guns are not the answer to protecting our children, as evident by the fact that armed guards weren’t enough to stop the tragedy at Columbine High School. The NRA’s response is pathetic and completely unacceptable.”

From state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“The predicted Mayan Apocalypse apparently materialized today in the form of the NRA’s vision for America.

“The NRA’s suggestion that we militarize our schools is not the solution, and references to other militarized institutions simply reinforce the problem our nation has with gun violence. What next? Armed guards at Starbucks and little league games? This is completely the wrong direction.

“The NRA’s grotesque demonization of mental illness feeds ignorance. It insults the one in four Americans who suffer – overwhelmingly in silence – some form of mental health problem annually.

“What was billed as a constructive conversation spiraled into extreme rhetoric and profitable fear mongering. As I set out in a letter to Vice President Biden yesterday, we must focus our efforts on multiple fronts, including health care and gun control, to curb disturbingly familiar and horrific scenes of mass murder.”

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Yee, video game makers react to SCOTUS ruling

Those for and against the California law that sought to ban sales of violent video games to minors have now weighed in on today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that shoots the laws down. (Read more on the ruling here.)

State Sen. Leland Yee, the law’s author, said Monday at a news conference in San Francisco that he’s disappointed that the court “has decided it’s going to side with corporate America and Walmart against our children.”

Yee, D-San Francisco, who holds a doctorate in child psychology, said he believes the fact that this ruling came at the very end of the high court’s term meant it was a complex, tough decision.

San Francisco Deputy Police Chief Kevin Cashman, at Yee’s news conference, said kids see too much violence at too early an age, and police are also concerned that violent games too often depict law enforcement officers as targets.

Dr. George Fouras, representing the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the San Francisco Medical Society, said these games, unlike Saturday-morning cartoons, “expose kids to behavior that is not acceptable in reality” and can harm kids’ cognitive development and decision-making ability. Dr. Shannon Udovic, speaking for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ California branch, said the law’s supporters are resolved to “continue the work that so many of us have been doing in bringing this important issue to parents’ minds.”

Entertainment Software Association President and CEO Michael Gallagher, whose video game industry trade group was one of this case’s plaintiffs, told reporters on a conference call that the ruling is “an overwhelming endorsement of the first amendment, the right to free expression and free speech, and also of the rights of parents.”

Gallagher noted this was the 13th consecutive decision, albeit the most important, upholding video game makers’ rights; meanwhile, he said, various governments have spent uncounted millions only to create uncertainty in the marketplace. He said he appreciated the 180 signatories to 27 friend-of-the-court briefs filed on his cause’s behalf, including various social-science and medical professionals as well as 10 state attorneys general.

Paul Smith, the ESA’s lawyer, said we seldom see so strong, clear and sweeping a decision from the Supreme Court the first time it tackles an issue such as this. He said the court found games are speech no different than books or movies, and the court isn’t in the business of carving out new exceptions to the First Amendment; science doesn’t bear out claims that the games are harmful, he added, and the law merely took control away from parents and gave it to government.

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Video game law SCOTUS arguments set for Nov. 2

The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in the challenge to California’s law against sale of excessively violent video games to children for Nov. 2.

The 2005 law — authored by then-Assemblyman and now state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — never took effect because it was immediately challenged by video game industry trade groups and struck down by a federal judge in 2005 and by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009.

The nation’s highest court agreed in April to review the case; State Attorney General Jerry Brown last month submitted the state’s written argument, while Yee joined the California Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, California, in submitting a “friend of the court” brief. Eleven other states – Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia – also submitted an amicus brief in support of California’s law.

The video game industry trade groups challenging the statute have argued it violates First Amendment rights to free expression and 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law. They said it’s unnecessary because of the voluntary ratings education and enforcement programs already in place, and would provide no meaningful standards to know to which games it applies.

But the state’s brief argues the law promotes parental authority to restrict unsupervised minors’ access to a narrow category of material in order to protect their physical and psychological well-being — a vital state interest — and it’s well-recognized that minors don’t always have the same First Amendment freedoms as adults to see sexual or violent material.

Yee issued a news release today saying he intends to attend the arguments in Washington, D.C.

“I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will help us give parents a valuable tool to protect children from the harmful effects of excessively violent, interactive video games,” he said. “We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder. The video game industry should not be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.”