There's a conspiracy theory floating around that the controversial new first-person shooter game in the iTunes Store, NRA: Practice Range, might be a counterfeit app, but the National Rifle Association has picked some curious timing to ignore the controversy. The release of the "Official NRA Licensed Product," on the one-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, frustrated many gun-control advocates, but The New York Times's Bill Keller sparked some second-guessing in a blog post Tuesday afternoon:
For one thing, nothing in the iTunes listing of the Target Practice app named the National Rifle Association. It just uses the initials – NRA – which Pierce said is a common way counterfeiters get around trademarks. Other NRA-related apps use the full name of the organization. They also feature a logo slightly different from the one on Target Practice. These and other indicators convinced Pierce [a counterfeit expert] that NRA: Target Practice is either a hoax aimed at embarrassing the NRA (not that the NRA needs much help) or, more likely, a publicity stunt by the developer of the app (which, to avoid rewarding the company, I will not name here.)
We've reached out to the NRA via phone and emails without response, and if you look at reports, like this one from ABC News, neither the NRA nor the new app's developer, MEDL Mobile, have responded to requests for comment since the app sparked controversy. Keller's counterfeit expert placed calls which went unreturned as well.
If this app is, in fact, an unlicensed kind of hoax using the NRA acronym without permission, you'd think the NRA might want to squash the brand association quickly. Despite the gun lobby's slow response to the Newtown massacre, the NRA isn't afraid of issuing cease and desists or suing President Obama, the District of Columbia, or the Department of Justice.
What's more, as ArsTechnica's Kyl Orland points out, the NRA's earlier efforts at officially licensed video games have been successful in the lobby's seemingly unending efforts to the turn gun-violence debate away from guns and toward other industries accused of stoking violence. Orland writes:
So Practice Range fits right into the NRA's arguments about video games' insidious effects on our society. "There's nothing wrong with guns in video games per se," the organization seems to be saying; "the problem is the way those guns are used by most of the big-money game industry in service of ultra-violent revenge fantasies. If only the game industry could use its immense influence and power to promote responsible, safe use of guns, as we have with our humble app, the world might be a different place!"
If the app isn't the NRA's, then the app and the controversy surrounding it would seem to present an opportune time for NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre to hammer home his point about violence in video games. In his notorious post-Newtown press conference, LaPierre in the days following blamed the gaming industry for mass violence:
And here's another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.
The video-game industry has been reeling as it struggles to put together a lobbying defense of its own. Of course, all these theories would be moot if the app is indeed the NRA's. As of today, the app is still up in the iTunes Store.
Update: The AP reports that the age recommendation for the game has now been changed to 12 years and up from four.