It’s been quite a month for the National Rifle Association.
A shooting-range app for the iPhone and iPad branded as an "Official NRA Licensed Product" was released on Jan. 14—the one-month anniversary of the Newtown massacre that left 20 children and seven adults plus the shooter dead. Created by Medl Mobile, NRA: Practice Range is rated for ages 4 and up, according to Apple’s app store. (On Twitter, Medl Mobile attempted to clarify that the game is to “promote gun safety, not ‘for kids ages 4+.’”)
The NRA has not confirmed the authenticity of the app, raising questions about whether the app is a hoax. The NRA nor Medl Mobile did not return calls for comment.
The free download is set up as shooting range, with three different backdrops to choose from: indoor, outdoor, and a skeet shoot. In each shooting range, the player can choose a type of target: shakey, hotshot or dead eye (not exactly in keeping with the child-friendly idea). After choosing the type of target, the player then chooses the weapon. The 9mm, one of the shooter's weapons at Newtown, is the first one that shows up; higher-capacity magazines cost $0.99.
The gamemakers insist NRA: Practice Range is the “most authentic experience possible” and offers “the right balance of gaming and safety education.”
Well, as the game progresses, the player does not shoot any live objects—although the targets multiply and move faster, just like a real, um, shooting. The weapon is locked in from the start, so players can’t pick a new one as the game progresses.
In the first 12 hours after its release, the 250+ reviews on iTunes were mostly positive. A “must have for any gun enthusiast and defender of the U.S. constitution,” one read. Another: “I love the NRA and everything they stand for, including this app. Yay, freedom.” There were some negative reviews, too, but some gun enthusiasts in the thread posited that those came from “gun grab advocates who think this is the appropriate place to vent about the NRA,” as one wrote.
Politics aside, though, one commenter had a user-experience problem: “I want to like this, but … it is choppy, hard to use and doesn’t let you unlock weapons in progress. Buying them is the only way to move on. Free is too high a price for this app.”
Does the app cater to more than just the NRA diehards? It does give “Fun Safety” tips before each round. Some examples? “Know your target and what is behind it.” “Always keep your gun unloaded until you need it.” “The NRA Eddie Eagle Gunsafe® Program has reached more than 256 million children—in all 50 states—since 1998.”
NRA: Practice Range also offers a tutorial on gun safety, NRA news, hunting season, gun laws and legislation—many of which send the player to the official National Rifle Association website. Tapping "gun laws" will take the player to a portion of the website that highlights how “no federal permit is required (or available) for the interstate transportation of firearms.” In keeping with the NRA’s current stance of refusing to support any gun restrictions, this portion of the site is focused on making sure gun owners know they are not being restricted at all.
But the most head-scratching part of the app’s release is that it comes just not just one month after the Newtown shooting, but three weeks after NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre declared that violent videogames were one of the key factors contributing to the shooting. So where does that leave the app? Again, the NRA hasn’t commented on that.
The NRA has not had much success with games (which could possibly be related to the dated references LaPierre made during his press conference last month), and according to gaming site Kotaku, NRA: Gun Club, the group’s 2006 attempt at creating a PlayStation game, was not so popular. In fact, one reviewer said NRA: Gun Club gave the “effective but thoroughly unintended message: Guns are boring.”
NRA: Practice Range offers a different lesson—guns are a natural-born right, and here’s how to properly use one. And nothing, not poor reviews nor questions about timing, is likely to stop that message.