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.
Ok. I’ve collected my thoughts. Let’s pick this insane bullshit apart, @NRATV. I’ve fought in numerous combat scenarios in Iraq and Afghanistan. First time I was ever shot at was just outside Fallujah on a shitty road about seven km East of the city. I’ll never forget it. https://t.co/Ai4vosHjGz— John (@mistermegative) March 5, 2018
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.