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Illinois legislator wants to ban Grand Theft Auto and other violent video games in hopes of reducing crime

February 23, 2021, 8:31 PM UTC

A Democratic state representative in Illinois is looking to ban violent video games, such as Grand Theft Auto, believing them to be responsible for a rise in carjackings and other violent crime in Chicago and the rest of the state.

Rep. Marcus Evans Jr. has introduced an amendment to bill HB3531, seeking to prohibit the sale of all violent video games throughout the state.

The effort faces many challenges, however. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a less restrictive California law, which sought to restrict the sale of violent video games to children. The 7-2 ruling in that case made it clear that First Amendment protections outweighed the concerns of lawmakers.

“A legislature cannot create new categories of unprotected speech simply by weighing the value of a particular category against its social costs and then punishing it if it fails the test,” the court said in its ruling.

“Reading Dante is unquestionably more cultured and intellectually edifying than playing Mortal Kombat,” it later added. “But these cultural and intellectual differences are not constitutional ones. Crudely violent video games, tawdry TV shows, and cheap novels and magazines are no less forms of speech than The Divine Comedy, and restrictions upon them must survive strict scrutiny.”

Evans’s proposal comes after Chicago police responded to 218 carjackings last month. He tells the Chicago Sun-Times that he believes there is bipartisan support for the bill in the state legislature.

The amendment also seeks to redefine “violent” as video games depicting “psychological harm,” including “motor vehicle theft with a driver or passenger present.”

The bill would levy fines of $1,000 per offense to any person who sells or rents a “violent video game.”

While games have been the scapegoat for real-world violence since their inception, much like music and comic books before them, experts have rejected that argument. While researchers at Dartmouth in 2018 did say they saw a link between violent games and adolescent aggression, several other studies have discredited the correlation.

“As a video game violence researcher and someone who has done scholarship on mass homicides, let me state very emphatically: There is no good evidence that video games or other media contributes, even in a small way, to mass homicides or any other violence among youth,” wrote Chris Ferguson, professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M University, a week after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.

The Secret Service has also looked into the issue, with a specific focus on tragedies such as school shootings. As early as 2002, the organization found no evidence to suggest that school shooters consume more media violence than anyone else.

Former President Donald Trump spoke out about video game violence in 2018, ultimately gathering representatives from the Entertainment Software Association and game publishers. After that meeting, Trump backed off his criticism of the industry.