A federal appeals court has thrown out a California law barring the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.
In a ruling Friday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a district court that the 2005 law violated the first and fourteenth amendment rights of minors.
"The government may not restrict speech in order to control a minor's thoughts," said the court.
Judge Consuelo Callahan, among the three-judge panel, said in a written opinion that there were "less restrictive" ways to protect kids from "unquestionably violent" games, including the voluntary game ratings system already in place.
The justice also said that none of the research presented in the case "suggests a causal link between minors playing violent video games and actual psychological or neurological harm."
Democratic Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, the law's author, called for the decision to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder," Yee, a child psychologist, said in a statement.
Tim Winter, president of the Parent Television Council, an entertainment watchdog, called the lawsuit the "most outrageous example of non sequitur" he's seen.
"Let’s be clear on what exactly is going on here: The video game industry has established a policy to 'protect' children from a harmful product, yet they file lawsuit after lawsuit to oppose any enforcement of that same policy," said Winter.
"They must be forgetting that the goal of this law was solely to enforce the video game industry’s own retail guidelines not to sell (Mature only) M-rated or (Adult only) AO-rated video games to children," he added.
While there are responsible video game retailers, including Wal-Mart and Game Stop, noted the PTC head, a 2008 "Secret Shopper" campaign revealed that video game retailers sold M-rated video games to minors 36 percent of the time.
Video game industry groups, which challenged the law shortly after it was approved by legislators in 2005, praised Friday's decision. The law was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger but was never enacted.
The law would have criminalized the sale or rental of violent video games to anyone under 18 years of age. Violations were punishable by fines up to $1,000.
Lawyers representing the entertainment groups had argued that the law would have paved the way for future legislation limiting kids' access to other content.
State lawyers had likened the video game law to government regulations on selling pornography to minors. But the appellate court said restrictions applies only to sexual content and not to violence, citing a 1968 Supreme Court ruling restricting obscenity to sexual content.
The court on Friday also called into question research that examined the impact of violent video games on children. Judge Callahan said the sample sizes of the research were too small to draw conclusions.
Winter disagreed with the court's ruling. He cited research by the Indiana University School of Medicine showing that violent video games may emotionally arouse players and cause them to have less activity in a brain region controlling thoughts and behavior.
"Countless independent studies confirm what most parents instinctively know to be true: repeated exposure to graphic sexual, violent and profanity-laced video games has a harmful and long-term effect on children," commented Winter.
Some research has also suggested that violent video games can cause aggression.
Similar laws in Illinois, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Michigan and Louisiana have also been struck down.