Grand Theft No-Go: City’s lawyers say blocking sale of violent games not possible


By SARA CASTELLANOS, Staff Writer

AURORA | In the wake of the July 20 theater massacre, Mayor Steve Hogan asked city lawyers last month whether the city could ban some violent video games to possibly curb real-life gun violence.

City attorneys said that a governmental entity could not ban the sale of violent video games because they are protected under free speech rights, but Hogan said he’ll continue to look at other options to proactively reduce gun violence.

This undated publicity photo provided by Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America shows a scene from the video game, "The Last of Us."  Mayor Steve Hogan was looking at ways to curb the sales of extremely violent video games in Aurora as a way to prevent gun violence in the community (AP Photo/Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America)
This undated publicity photo provided by Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America shows a scene from the video game, “The Last of Us.” Mayor Steve Hogan was looking at ways to curb the sales of extremely violent video games in Aurora as a way to prevent gun violence in the community (AP Photo/Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America)

Hogan specifically asked lawyers whether the city could enact a ban on violent video games or tax them more so they’d be less appealing to children. He said he asked the question because the city needs to consider alternative options to decrease gun violence in addition to a discussion about gun laws and more funding for mental health resources.

“I wasn’t asking for a ban on all games, just investigating the possibility of restrictions on those most violent with no seeming purpose other than to show violence,” he said in an email. “I understand full well the producers have the right of free speech, but society also has a right to be safe. And if these games are having an impact on being safe, then I do not feel more regulation is out of line.”

City lawyers told Hogan that besides free-speech issues, a consensus of researchers agree there is no direct relationship between violent media and violent behavior, especially mass killings.

Governmental entities can’t legally do anything to ban or increase taxes on the games because that would be infringing on free speech rights, said Michael Hyman, assistant city attorney.

He referenced a Supreme Court decision in 2011 that struck down the state of California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors.

“Video games essentially are a form of speech and qualify for protection under the First Amendment,” Hyman said.

Businesses, however, have the right not to sell violent video games, since they can sell whatever they choose.

“We can’t enact laws that enforce that sort of thing,” Hyman said. “It’s really up to the businesses.”

Kmart and Wal-Mart have enacted policies that refuse the sale of video games rated “mature” to anyone under 17 years old.

Still, Hogan says he’s committed to finding other ways of reducing gun violence in the aftermath of the July 20 theater shootings that killed 12 and wounded 70.

“I wish I had some immediate answers and I don’t, but I am looking,” he said. “Gutting the Second Amendment is not an answer. It appears taxing or banning violent video games isn’t an answer either. I will keep looking.”

Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or sara@aurorasentinel.com. 

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  • Jason

    I like Mayor Hogan. He appears to be an upstanding guy and handled the Theater shooting with great professionalism and sincerity. I am glad he refuses to touch the 2nd amendment. I am a bit disappointed he was trying to go after video games, but I am encouraged he is looking for solutions.

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