Says special interests 'are afraid of the facts'

Vice President Joseph Biden on Thursday urged passage of a White House proposal to study the effect of violent videogames on the behavior of minors despite the fact that “there is part of the interest group population out there that are afraid of facts.”

His comments were slightly more pointed than those in a White House plan unveiled last week calling for an assault weapons ban and other gun control measures, as well as $10 million to fund a Centers for Disease Control study of videogame violence and, more generally, “media images.”

“Let the facts lead where they will, and let the research be done, and that is one of the things that the president and I believe very strongly,” Biden said in a Google+ “hangout” forum on Thursday. “Let the facts work, including with regards to the entertainment industry.”

Biden compared the benefit of research to that done on highway safety, where studies showed significant numbers of injuries suffered by drivers who were slammed against steering columns upon impact, leading to the installation of restraints in vehicles.

“There is no hard data as to whether these excessively violent videogames in fact cause people to engage in behavior that is antisocial, including using guns,” Biden said. “There is one study done, the American Academy of Pediatrics. They said if you watch three to six hours of videogames — a lot of kids do — that can lead to aggressive behavior. They didn’t make the next connection, that leads to violent behavior, but there’s no studies done. So I recommended to the president that we do significant research. Let the (Centers for Disease Control), let the National Institutes of Health go out and look at the pathology behind this, if there is a pathology related to gun violence. We shouldn’t be afraid of the facts.”

Biden’s comments came the same day that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, reintroduced a bill calling for a study on violent videogames and video content, with Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) the original cosponsors. Rockefeller had originally introduced the legislation last month, shortly after the Newtown tragedy, but it was too late to move through the previous Congress. Also on Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) unveiled legislation to ban 157 types of assault weapons.

Biden’s comments, and those of other lawmakers, underscore the extent to which Washington scrutiny has been greater on videogames than movie and Tv content, although the latter could still be part of a study, as well as online content.

Two weeks ago, Biden met with representatives from the movie and TV business and then with officials from the videogame industry as part of his series of meetings with various groups as he crafted recommendations to President Obama on addressing gun violence. MPAA chairman Chris Dodd and others reportedly urged Biden to hold the film and TV meetings separately from that of the videogame business, noting the interactive nature of gaming makes it different from the rest of the entertainment business.

It was unclear whether Biden’s citing of “special interests” was aimed at the videogame industry specifically, but the primary trade association representing that business, the Entertainment Software Assn., declared last week that “scientific research and international and domestic crime data all point toward the same conclusion: Entertainment does not cause violent behavior in the real world.” On its website, it also says that “numerous authorities have examined the scientific record and found that it does not establish any causal link between media content and real-life violence.”

A 2011 Supreme Court decision striking down a California ban on the sale of violent videogames to minors left little room for the government to write legislation curbing media mayhem, but some lawmakers, like Rockefeller, believe that if a comprehensive study showed a more compelling link, it could provide a more legally sustainable rationale for narrowly tailored future legislation or add to the pressure on the industry to take additional voluntary measures.

Some lawmakers are not waiting. Earlier this week, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) introduced legislation requiring that videogames be labelled and that retailers check identification before selling titles to minors. An industry panel, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, currently assesses games, applying ratings that include M (mature) and AO (adult only), and retailers voluntarily agree not to sell games with these ratings to minors.

Matheson acknowledged that there were “constitutional issues” that have been raised on such legislation. “I believe that retailers have made a good faith effort to institute policies that keep mature games out of the hands of young kids, but at the end of the day, these policies are voluntary, and parents deserve piece of mind that they are the final authority in what their children rent or purchase,” he said in a statement.

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