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State lawmaker wants tax on violent video games

This undated publicity image released by Activision shows soldiers and terrorists battling in the streets of Yemen in a scene from the video game, “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.”
Soldiers and terrorists battle in the streets of Yemen in a scene from the video game, “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.”AP / Activision

A Republican lawmaker from rural Missouri bucked her party's anti-tax bent on Tuesday and called for a sales tax on violent video games in response to a deadly Connecticut school shooting.

Rep. Diane Franklin, of Camdenton, said the proposed 1 percent sales tax would help pay for mental health programs and law enforcement measures aimed at preventing mass shootings. The tax would be levied on video games rated "teen," "mature" and "adult-only" by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the organization in charge of rating video games.

The rating board classifies games as "teen" if they contain violence, suggestive themes and crude humor. The popular music game "Guitar Hero" has a teen rating and would be taxed under Franklin's plan. Another popular title, "Call of Duty," has a mature rating and also would be subject to the sales tax. "Mature" games are deemed suitable for people 17 and older and may contain intense violence and gore.

"History shows there is a mental health component to these shootings," Franklin said, referring to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 20 students and six adults in Newtown, Conn., and the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting that left 14 dead.

Franklin's plan is the latest in a string of measures proposed in response to recent mass shootings. Another Missouri Republican has filed a measure that would allow teachers to carry guns in the classroom. On the national level, Vice President Joe Biden is leading an effort to reduce gun violence and is expected to reveal recommendations Wednesday that include steps to improve school safety and mental health care, as well as address violence in entertainment and video games.

Franklin's proposal already faces opposition from the Entertainment Software Association, which represents companies that publish computer and video games.

"Taxing First Amendment protected speech based on its content is not only wrong, but will end up costing Missouri taxpayers," the association said in a written statement.

Tax increases typically are a hard sell in Missouri. This past November, voters rejected a proposed tobacco tax increase for the third time in a decade, choosing instead to leave the state's cigarette tax at the lowest level in the nation. Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon both have taken stands against tax increases.

Other proposals to tax violent video games failed in Oklahoma in 2012 and New Mexico in 2008. In Oklahoma, Republican state Rep. William Fourkiller had proposed a violent video games tax to combat childhood obesity and school bullying, but his plan failed to make it out of a committee.

Other non-tax efforts to curb the effect of violent video games also have fallen short. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., put forward a measure last year for the study of the impact of violent video games on children, but it failed. A California law banning the sale of violent games to minors was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.

The Entertainment Merchant's Association sent a letter to Biden last week urging him to look elsewhere when it comes to his plans on gun violence.

"Make no mistake: blaming movies and video games is an attempt to distract the attention of the public and the media from meaningful action that will keep our children safer," wrote the merchant's association, a lobbying group for the home entertainment industry.

Others, however, have criticized the video game industry and its role in mass shootings.

"There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people," National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a December news conference.

Franklin said she hopes her bill will "start a discussion" on the relationship between violent games and mental illness. Franklin, who has a granddaughter in kindergarten, added she is concerned about the safety of schools and universities in the state.

In 2008, there were 298 million video games sold in the U.S., generating $11.7 billion in revenue. Six of the 10 best-selling games included violence, and four carried a "mature" rating.

Franklin's bill was formally introduced Monday and must be referred and approved by a committee before being considered on the House floor.