Skip to main content

NRA's video game smacks of hypocrisy

By Christopher J. Ferguson, Special to CNN
updated 8:07 AM EST, Wed January 16, 2013
The National Rifle Association has released a video game,
The National Rifle Association has released a video game, "Practice Range," a month after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NRA releases shooting video game rated for ages 4 and up for free download
  • Christopher Ferguson: NRA condemned video game industry less than a month ago
  • Ferguson says the NRA doesn't even take its own claims seriously
  • As queasy as the app is, video games do not cause more violence, he says

Editor's note: Christopher J. Ferguson is chair of the psychology and communication department at Texas A&M International University. He is the author of the novel "Suicide Kings."

(CNN) -- The nation has struggled with addressing how best to reduce gun violence following last month's tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Responding to calls for gun control, the National Rifle Association attempted to shift blame for mass homicides away from guns to cultural influences such as video games or entertainment. No one can accuse the NRA of not being clever. At least not until it released a gun-themed shooting game less than a month after condemning the video game industry.

In fairness, "Practice Range," rated for ages 4 and up and free on the iPhone and iPad, is no blood-soaked, first-person shooter game. The trailer shows that it allows the player to engage in target practice using realistic-looking weapons. One of the weapon options appears to be an AR-15, the same weapon used at Newtown. The game also includes some gun safety tips.

Christopher J. Ferguson
Christopher J. Ferguson

I have no objection to the game per se, although the NRA's app smacks of hypocrisy.

Releasing a gun-themed shooting video game a month after the Newtown massacre reveals that the NRA doesn't even take its own claims seriously. As for the NRA's assertion that games create violence, it is nakedly self-serving.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



But, as queasy as the whole thing is, violent video games do not cause more violence. Several researchers, including myself, met with Vice President Joe Biden on Friday to inform him that studies are unable to support the contention that violent video games contribute to societal violence. Rather, it is untreated mental health symptoms that contribute to outcomes including youth violence, dating violence and bullying.

As Fareed Zakaria aptly noted, nations that consume more video games per capita than the United States such as Japan, or share our media culture almost identically such as Canada, have much lower violence rates than our country.

That's true even if you exclude gun violence and consider only simply assaults. And mass homicide perpetrators are no more likely to be gamers than the rest of us. Our society experiences confirmation bias, focusing on video games when the shooter is a young male, and ignoring video games when the shooter is an older male such as 62-year-old William Spengler, who shot two firefighters the week after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. This confirmation bias creates the false impression of a correlation where none exists.

NRA ad criticizes Obama
Studies on video games and violence
Behind the NRA's rise to power

The NRA is apparently unaware that most theories of media effects make little distinction between a game such as "Practice Range" and one such as "Grand Theft Auto." According to such theories, seeing a picture of a gun or reading "Grimm's Fairy Tales" is as likely to stimulate aggression as a blood-soaked movie or game.

Granted, the U.S. Supreme Court didn't buy that argument in 2011 when it considered a California law regulating the sale of violent games to minors, and criticized the quality of the research attempting to link violent games with aggression more broadly.

I don't believe either "Practice Range" or "Grand Theft Auto" harms minors, although of course some games may have morally objectionable content. But the NRA can't claim, "Video games create mass killers. Oh wait, hey, not this one!"

There are reasonable things we could do to reduce gun violence while respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns. For example, better and more consistent background checks and required reporting by mental health professionals when patients make violent threats (requiring the removal of firearm licenses from those individuals) would go a long way. We can also put out public health campaigns to warn people of the risks of gun ownership so they could make informed decisions of their own without their constitutional rights being violated.

Sensible changes will not occur if the nation indulges in a moral panic about violent video games as it did after the Columbine massacre. This, undoubtedly, would be exactly what the NRA would like to see happen.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Christopher J. Ferguson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT