Illinois Lawmaker Aims to Protect Kids from Violent Video Games

Published April 1, 2009

An Illinois state legislator, having withdrawn a controversial bill aimed at curbing minors’ exposure to sexually explicit material in video games, has submitted a new one.

State Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-DeKalb) submitted the new measure, HB 2513, on February 19. It would toughen penalties on anyone convicted of exhibiting “harmful materials” to a minor.

Although Republican legislative staff member David Sinclair confirmed Pritchard’s original legislation had been withdrawn, at press time the bill still appeared on the Illinois General Assembly’s Web site as pending before the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s criminal law subcommittee.

Steep Fines Imposed

Pritchard’s original bill would have imposed a $1,000 fine on anyone convicted of “exhibition to or depiction to a minor of a sexually explicit video game.” Sinclair declined to elaborate on why the legislation had been pulled, explaining only that constitutional concerns “may have been an issue.”

Pritchard’s assembly district includes the Northern Illinois University campus that was the location of a mass shooting in 2008.

“I think video games is [sic] a part of the problem,” Pritchard told the suburban Chicago Daily Herald last year. “Just a whole culture of violence.”

First Amendment Concerns

Pritchard’s bill sought to amend a 2005 law, which a U.S. District Court in Illinois found unconstitutional, banning the sale of violent games to minors.

The court ruled the state had offered no evidence showing violent video games incite “imminent lawless action,” and that therefore the law fell well short of meeting the Constitutional standard for restricting speech or expression.

Although no state law aimed at curbing the sale of video games has survived a court challenge to date, many states do have laws protecting minors from exposure to harmful materials.

Games Don’t Meet Standard

First Amendment lawyer and video game law specialist Lawrence Walters said laws against harmful materials are perfectly constitutional.

“The question is, would any commercial video game meet the law’s standard? I’m unaware of any that would,” Walters said.

Under established Supreme Court precedents, “harmful to minors” means any material that “appeals to the prurient interest in sex,” “is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community in the state as a whole,” and “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Ben Boychuk ([email protected]) writes from Rialto, California.