Bill Would Study Impact of Violent Video Games on Children

Rockefeller introduces proposal as a response to Sandy Hook tragedy

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary has triggered calls for more than just gun regulation, putting violent video games and programming again in the spotlight. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill today that calls for the National Academy of Sciences to study the impact of violent video games and violent video programming on children.

As chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, Rockefeller has some pull in getting his bill before it. This bill could see immediate action because he is "hot lining" it, meaning that if no one objects it goes up for a vote on the floor.

Rockefeller's bill as currently drafted would direct the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to arrange with the NAS to conduct a comprehensive study into whether violent games and violent programming have an impact on children.

Several press stories reported that Adam Lanza, the troubled 20-year-old who gunned down 20 children and six adults last Friday, often played violent video games.

"By the time children reach 18 years old, they have seen tens of thousands of violent images, on television, the Internet, or video games. As parents, research confirms what we already know, these violent images have a negative impact on our children's well-being. While we don't know if such images impacted the killer in Newtown, the issue of violent content is serious and must be addressed," Rockefeller said in a statement earlier this week.

Studies are one thing, but a law regulating programming would be quite another. The Supreme Court in June 2011 struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent games to minors, based on First Amendment grounds.

That's not stopping Rockefeller. "Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it. They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians and psychologists know better. These court decisions show we need to do more and explore ways Congress can lay additional groundwork on this issue. This report will be a critical resource in this process," Rockefeller said in a statement introducing the bill.

Never one to accept industry self-regulation, Rockefeller also called on the entertainment and media industry to do more. "Major corporations, including the video game industry, make billions on marketing and selling violent content to children. They have a responsibility to protect our children. If they do not, you can count on Congress to take a more aggressive role," he said.

The electronic game industry has been down this road before. In a statement, the Entertainment Software Association refers to past studies which have failed to establish a link to violence. "The search for meaningful solutions must consider the broad range of actual factors that may have contributed to this tragedy. Any such study needs to include the years of extensive research that has shown no connection between entertainment and real-life violence," the ESA said.

Rockefeller also called on Congress to reauthorize the ban on assault weapons, which he voted for in 1994, and for a national dialogue on mental health.