The NRA Has a Long History of Scapegoating Violent Video Games

The NRA will throw video games under the bus, again and again.

Feature by Matt Kim, .

In the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting that left 17 dead, the NRA has set forth on a campaign to blame violent video games for the shooting. Anything to distract people away from assault rifles and gun control reform. It's not the first time the NRA has pointed its sights at video games, and in fact the NRA has a long, incoherent history with blaming video games after violent mass shootings.

A quick Google search for "NRA" and "video games" will get you headlines from as far back as 2012, like "NRA Blames 'Corrupt' Video Game Industry For Gun Violence" from the Huffington Post. The accusation came following the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 26.

NRA head Wayne LaPierre said following the attack that, "There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows violence against its own people." LaPierre cites games like Grand Theft Auto 5 and Splatterhouse as the true culprits of violence, and the video game industry as the villainous organization that continues to sell these weapons of murder to everyday people—an inversion of the attacks the NRA is charged with on a regular basis.

These attacks on video games have since been a constant play in the NRA's crisis management, even when it appears as though the NRA themselves see video games as a useful recruitment tool for its cause.

Even a month ago, NRA TV posted a video on its YouTube channel seemingly trying to appeal to younger viewers by comparing the latest NBA 2K game to a gun, in that both feature robust customization options.

In 2013, the NRA released Practice Range, a free-to-play shooting game rated for ages four and up, available on iOS devices. The game was released a month after the NRA's previous comments towards the video game industry and the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Practice Range wasn't taken off App Stores until earlier this year in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting that left 17 dead. But that's probably because the NRA has renewed its own call to arms against violent video games.

After the Parkland, Florida shooting, key Republicans like Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (KY-R) and President Donald Trump (who announced that he has had successful meetings with the NRA post-Parkland) have made the case that violent video games are warping the minds of our children into shooters. Governor Bevin has previously announced on Twitter that he is proudly endorsed by the NRA, and the NRA has given him an 86 percent rating in turn.

Other Republican lawmakers, such as Rhode Island State House member Robert Nardolillo, have proposed a tax increase on games rated "M" or higher by the ESRB. His plan calls for a 10 percent or higher tax on those games with funds going towards mental health provisions in schools. Nardolillo was endorsed by the NRA Political Victory Fund during his campaign.

It doesn't help that known terrorists in gun attacks have cited video games as either hobbies, or in the case of Norway's Anders Breivik, as actual practice. In the case of the latter, Breivik's testimony in court regarding video games was cited specifically by a series of op-eds that were published earlier this week on CNN and Fast Company.

Jeremy Bailenson, an expert in the field of VR, made the rounds this week as he suggested in op-eds that video games can be "the ultimate training machine," for terrorists like Breivik, and it's up to VR developers like himself to take responsibility. At both CNN and Fast Company, Bailenson argues that VR video games should purposefully design their shooters to fire off-center to train kids to shoot incorrectly, thereby ruining their aiming should they choose to go off an commit an actual mass shooting.

Bailenson's post was poorly received. In particular, it was poorly received by Twitter user John, an ex-U.S. Marine, who broke down Bailenson's arguments that guns in VR are the same as real guns, and as such things like video game controllers and VR controllers are suitable stand-ins for gun training. Let's also not forget that only 5 percent of Americans own VR capable devices compared to the 43 percent of gun owners in 2015.

It's important to realize that with op-eds like Bailenson's and others there is still a mass media perception that video games cause real harm and incite violence. In video games, the NRA has found a target that the public can buy into as equally damaging.

What's fascinating though is how much the NRA's anti-video game sentiment seems to run counter to the organization's support base, at least the ones that use social media.

On popular gun-related subreddits such as r/firearms and r/gunpolitics, a quick search of "video games" or "violent games" turns up plenty of comments from users who are against regulating violent video games.

In a r/firearms thread about Bailenson's CNN op-ed, commenters sounded off against both the "liberal media" and the idiocy of blaming video games. "I love the fact that people still claim [it's violent games] despite the fact that it's been scientifically proven that violent video games do not increase violent tendencies in people," wrote one commenter in a rebuke to CNN, but also the NRA. "Didn't Trump blame some of it on video games at some point after the shooting too? It's not a political thing, it's an old people thing," wrote another.

On Twitter, the search for "NRA Video Games" yield slightly more varied results, but also a slathering of tweets from pro-gun advocates who actually decry violent media such as movies and video games. Something much rarer on pro-gun subreddits. It's unclear if this is a result of the age divide between the two social media platforms.

For the NRA, protecting the right to own real guns is priority number one, even if its own base sees a compatibility with violent games. And why wouldn't they? What other massively popular, mainstream medium has so many stories where the hero solves their problem by shooting their way out? Is that not the NRA's "good guy with a gun" message in consumable form?

The NRA does seem to understand the appeal of video games for its base. Why else would it have a free game on the iOS App Store about shooting a gun for nearly five years? But the NRA also understands that when it comes to their mission statement, video games are an easy scapegoat, and one that it will return to again and again, so long as gun violence and mass shootings happen in this country.

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  • Avatar for moochan #1 moochan 8 months ago
    Attack whatever is popular is what groups like the NRA does to stop any talk on what they are defending. I mean it works in that it makes articles after articles on actual news media to write about video games and it's connection to guns. Which leads to mudding the water and when that happens they win. Writing it on actual gaming sites I get since gaming is this while reason this site exists. But any real news outlets that does it are outlets that seem to not really care about getting to actual facts.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #2 SIGGYZtar 8 months ago
    But many of these violent video games are filled with patriotic imagery... So why does the NRA hate our troops?
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  • Avatar for novacav #3 novacav 8 months ago
    It's not violent games it's violent games + SSRI drugs

    Same for guns, generally. We've had high powered rifles for 100 years. Kids started getting drugged up in, give or take, the last 20.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #4 MetManMas 8 months ago
    Of course the NRA will keep finding scapegoats, actually taking responsibility and admitting that the prevalence of guns in the US is the problem would be bad for their business.

    Like, I still think we need more games for younger audiences these days (Nigh every non-Nintendo release these days is T to M rated! ), but I know damn well that it isn't video games that gave shooters access to a real life firearm.

    And V.R.-Schmee.R, you don't need any actual skills to kill lots of people! Guns are devices made explicitly for killing things easily!
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #5 SargeSmash 8 months ago
    I'm a gun owner. I even generally support many of the NRA's positions. I don't on this one. I think that violent games can certainly be a trigger for unstable individuals, but so can many other forms of media. One could potentially make the argument that the sort of entertainment we have now is significantly more violent than that of the past, and maybe that's a piece of it, but it's a very small piece. I think the NRA needs to work on their messaging a bit, because I don't think this particular push is helpful to their cause at all.

    Of course, the NRA isn't the only ones that have targeted video games with this sort of scrutiny. As mentioned in the article, there are quite a few politicians that have gone after video games as well, and they're on both sides of the aisle. It seems to be an easy target that appeals to a set of various bases that don't quite "get" gaming as a whole.Edited 3 times. Last edited March 2018 by SargeSmash
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  • Avatar for docexe #6 docexe 8 months ago
    Sigh… There is a complicated and multilayered issue at play here.

    On one hand, the older I get, the more I think it’s unwise to consume media uncritically. In that sense, while I don’t think that violent media is in any way the direct or primary cause of the many societal ills that are often imputed to it (and I think it’s deplorable how often politicians, government institutions and lobbying associations attempt to use it as a scapegoat whenever some tragedy happens), I do think that the exaggerated prevalence of violent media nowadays might play a part in desensitizing us to human suffering (and yeah, I’m saying that as an horror fan who still consumes his share of gory movies and games on a recurrent basis). I also believe that the way news broadcasters treat this kind of tragedies (often sensationalizing them, to the point of essentially turning the perpetrators into celebrities) might play a part in how recurrent they have become, but that’s a can of worms that merits another discussion by itself.

    At the same time, I think the prevalence of gun violence and mass shootings in the US are rooted in some more profound social illnesses, and the banning of violent videogames (or for that matter, of guns themselves) will not solve that. At best, I think those visceral reactions of “let’s ban this or that” are nothing else but ill-conceived palliative measures that don’t really address the actual causes of the problem. Causes that, admittedly, are way more complicated and daunting by themselves to solve.
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  • Avatar for ericspratling56 #7 ericspratling56 8 months ago
    Using a cultural target your political/social tribe largely doesn't like or understand as a scapegoat for a social problem caused by something else entirely. Can you IMAGINE someone doing that?? The NRA's tactic here is simply unthinkable.

    Besides, we all know video games and nerd culture don't teach children to be violent. The very idea is absurd. They do DEFINITELY instill sexism and misogyny, though. That's settled science.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #8 SatelliteOfLove 8 months ago
    It's a distraction.

    Pointing out their doing this distraction as a distraction is the right call.

    Cuz if one doesn't, it promotes its purpose as a distraction.

    Tiring, aint it?
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  • Avatar for hexin #9 hexin 8 months ago
    @ericspratling56 Way to not engage with the topic at hand, deflecting with both a non sequitur and some good old fashion false equivalency!

    Yep, the tactic of scapegoating to deflect criticism isn't unique to the NRA. Who cares? That doesn't make it any less BS or any more valid for dealing with mass murder. And oh, guess what, becoming a mass murderer is not the same thing as reinforcing sexist, racist and other anti-social attitudes when consuming media.

    Please try harder.Edited March 2018 by hexin
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  • Avatar for FreakazoidRobot #10 FreakazoidRobot 8 months ago
    You'd think these people would know the difference between correlation and causation. Did you know that most mass shooters eat pickles? Clearly, pickles must cause mass shootings.
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  • Avatar for FreakazoidRobot #11 FreakazoidRobot 8 months ago
    Deleted March 2018 by FreakazoidRobot
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  • Avatar for ericspratling56 #12 ericspratling56 8 months ago
    @hexin If you're wondering what that *whooshing* sound you just heard was....
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