SALT LAKE CITY — Several pro-family groups and state legislators on Tuesday asked Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to not join a lawsuit opposing a California law banning the sale of violent and pornographic video games to children.
"We're not in favor of these games being sold the minors," said Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville. "I think we need to do what we can as adults and parents to protect our children."
The groups, in a news conference at the Capitol, reminded Shurtleff of Utah's family-friendly atmosphere, and said supporting opposition to the law would reflect poorly on that image and send the wrong message to country.
"As the most family-oriented state in the nation, Utah should support this law that promotes the protection of children," said Laura Bunker, chairwoman of United Families Utah.
Though Shurtleff doesn't approve of sexually explicit or violent video games for children, he is contemplating filing an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief supporting the video game industry in its legal battle to overturn the California law. The law has not taken effect because the Entertainment Software Association, an industry trade group, sued in federal court on the grounds that it would violate constitutionally protected free speech rights.
The main issue is who should be making the decision about whether children buy the video games, parents or government, said the attorney general's spokesman Paul Murphy.
"You're weighing two different issues. One is individual liberties, and one is protecting children. What is the best way to do this?" he said.
Murphy said Shurtleff, in consultation with other attorneys general, is wrestling with those legal questions and may make a decision fairly soon.
The Utah Legislature in 2009 approved a bill requiring retailers who advertised they would not sell violent video games to minor, to keep the promise or face a $2,000 fine. But former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. vetoed the bill. The bill's sponsor did not bring it back this year. Lawmakers are waiting to see what the U.S. Supreme Court does with the California case before deciding whether to run the legislation again.
"States need to be able to pass laws that we will not sell to children," Dunnigan said.
Utah Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka said people she talks to assume Utah already prohibits children from buying video games in which participants have sex with prostitutes and then kill them; shoot innocent shoppers walking in a mall and decapitate people with shovels and have dogs fetch the severed heads.
Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, said that's not the type of material children should be able to buy.
"If we took a poll here in Utah, most people would be outraged that our children have access to those games," she said.