Disbarred Anti-Video Game Attorney Jack Thompson Offers Aid in Marshall School Shooting Case

Disbarred anti-video game activist sees connection to video games in Marshall School shooting

Jack Thompson

Controversial anti-gaming activist and disbarred Florida attorney Jack Thompson is offering pro bono assistance in the Marshall shooting case, suggesting that video games may be a factor in the January 23rd high school shooting, the Paducah Sun reports.

Thompson is offering to provide a sworn statement to officials detailing his involvement in representing families of victims in similar school shootings, the paper reports. He has been in contact with the Marshall County Attorney and wrote a letter to the governor of Kentucky.

The paper reports that Thompson said he has been told by Marshall County Attorney Jeff Edwards that the 15-year-old suspect was also a user of violent video games and that his grandmother had recently taken them away from him. Edwards confirmed to the paper that information has been found indicating the suspect was a user of the games.

"What happens in the case of heavy users of video games is that when they have the virtual reality taken from them, they will set out to make it real reality," Thompson told the newspaper. "They do this without being fully appreciative of what they are about to do."

In letters to both the Kentucky State Police commissioner ad the governor, Thompson accuses the state police of stonewalling the investigation. The governor last week seemed to also indicate a link between violent media and shootings, saying  "We can't celebrate death in video games, celebrate death in TV shows, celebrate death in movies, celebrate death in musical lyrics and remove any sense of morality and sense of our higher authority and then expect that things like this are not going to happen."

On January 23rd, a 15-year-old student opened fire at Marshall County High School killing two and injuring eighteen others. Police later arrested Gabe Parker in connection with the shooting. The trial in the case has not yet started.

Thompson, who was disbarred for life from practicing law by the Supreme Court of Florida in 2009, made a name for himself in the 90s and 2000s through a series of failed lawsuits that attempted to connect violence in video games with real-world violence. He filed suit or was involved in suits filed on behalf of families in connection with shootings in Tennessee, Alabama, New Mexico and in 1997's Heath High School shooting, which took place about 40 miles from January's Marshall High School shooting.  All of those cases were dismissed or withdrawn.

In the Heath High School shooting lawsuit, Thompson filed on behalf of the parents of three children killed, arguing that 14-year-old shooter Michael Carneal was influenced by the movie The Basketball Diaries and honed his shooting skills with the video game Doom. That case was dismissed with the court saying it was "simply too far a leap from shooting characters on a video screen to shooting people in a classroom."

Thompson's later suits often centered on the Grand Theft Auto video game franchise and his argument that it trained gamers to enjoy violence. That was later expanded to include many of developer Rockstar's games including Bully and Manhunt. In 2007, Grand Theft Auto publisher Take-Two attempted to stop Thompson from filing "public nuisance actions" against the company. Thompson later agreed not to seek legal restriction of Take-Two's games, threaten to sue the company or accuse it of wrongdoings.

Thompson was also connected with multiple attempts to ban the sale of violent video games to people under 18 at the state level. While his goals aligned with that of the National Institute on Media and the Family, the organization eventually asked Thompson to stop using their name because of his "extreme hyperbole" and tactics of personally attacking individuals who disagreed with him. The argument that states could legally ban the sale of violent video games to children without parental supervision was rejected by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2011. In the landmark case, the justices voted 7-2 to nullify a 2005 California law restricting game sales and ruled that video games were protected speech under the First Amendment.

In 2007, The Florida Bar filed disbarment proceedings against Thompson alleging 31 violations. He was later found guilty of 27 of those violation, including improperly practicing law outside of Florida. The court initially weighed a five year disbarment, then a ten year disbarment, but eventually settled on a permanent disbarment as well as a fine of more than $43,000 for "cumulative misconduct, a repeated pattern of behavior relentlessly forced upon numerous unconnected individuals, a total lack of remorse or even slight acknowledgment of inappropriate conduct, and continued behavior consistent with the previous public reprimand."  A year later, Thompson announced he would return to his law practice despite the lifetime ban, saying that the disbarment never happened and daring the Florida Bar to stop him.

Prior to his activism in video games, Thompson made a name for himself through his efforts to  ban the sale of 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be album. He also went after N.W.A., Ice-T's Cop Killer and the music video for Madonna's Justify My Love.

Glixel has reached out to the Florida Bar for comment and will update this story when it responds.