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Newtown lawmaker calls for 'sin tax' on violent video games

Call of Duty
Activision
Connecticut lawmaker DebraLee Hovey would like to tax M-rated games such asActivision

A Connecticut state representative whose district includes Newtown is calling for a tax on "Mature"-rated video games, and she wants the money to fund mental health education about "the danger of violent games."

Republican lawmaker DebraLee Hovey submitted the bill calling for a 10 percent sales tax on all M-rated video games, in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School which took the lives of 20 children and six adults.

"In my mind, we do not need to be glorifying violence," she told NBC News in an interview. "What about murder and mayhem have become entertainment in our society? I think that putting a sin tax — and in my mind this is a sin tax — on the M-rated video games ... will cause people to think about what they are actually purchasing."

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board gives the M rating to games that "contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language." Game retailers are not allowed to sell these games — which include franchises such as "Call of Duty" and "Dead Space" — to anyone under the age of 17.

But Hovey believes too many young children are still playing those games.

Hovey's bill designates the money from the sales tax to be used by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services "for the purpose of developing informational materials to educate families on the warning signs of video-game addiction and antisocial behavior." Additionally, the bill says the funds will provide "education concerning the danger of violent video games."

"It's one of those things where I'm not sure parents really know the significance of the content," she said. "They just hear that it's a game. With that money, just like we do with gambling and things, we would be doing some public service announcements to really ask parents to look and make sure they know what their children are playing and recognize that violence can beget violence."

Video games have come under intense scrutiny ever since the massacre as reports have suggested that the shooter — 20-year-old Adam Lanza — enjoyed playing games ranging from the family-friendly "Dance Dance Revolution" to the violent "Call of Duty."

Hovey is not the first lawmaker to call for what's often referred to as a "sin tax" on violent games in the wake of the massacre. Last month, Missouri State Representative Diane Franklin asked for a 1 percent sales tax on games rated "Teen," "Mature" and "Adult Only." The tax would help pay for mental health programs and law enforcement measures aimed at preventing mass shootings.

Meanwhile, following the massacre, the National Rifle Association blamed video games for creating a culture of violence that breeds killers. Massachusetts officials have pulled gun-based arcade games from state-owned rest stops. The town of Melrose, Mass., is launching a program calling for people to turn in their violent video games. And President Barack Obama has called for more research into links between video games, media images and violence.

Various video-game organizations have cautioned politicians and lobbyists against scapegoating the industry "for societal ills." The recent uproar over video games can be likened to the uproar over comic books in the 1950s, according to Daniel Greenberg, chairman of the International Game Developers Association.

"The U.S. government did irreparable damage to the comic book industry in the 1950s by using faulty research to falsely blame juvenile delinquency and illiteracy on comic books," he wrote. "Censoring violent comic books did not reduce juvenile delinquency or increase literacy, it decimated the production of one of the few kinds of literature that at-risk youths read for pleasure. Censoring video games could have similar unintended consequences that we cannot currently foresee."

Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.