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Giving NRA: Practice Range A Shot

Much ado has been made over the recently released mobile game NRA: Practice Range. Some view it as hypocritical for the organization after it partially blamed video game violence for the recent shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school. Others defend it as an educational tool that promotes responsible gun ownership. Does either argument have merit? We decided to test the game to find out.

What Is It?
NRA: Practice Range is a free app available on iPhones and iPads by developer Medl Mobile. Its description claims that it is an official NRA licensed product, though the NRA's website makes no mention of the app. Initially, Apple rated the game as being suitable for ages 4+, but has since changed the rating to 12+, and has labeled the game as having "Frequent/Intense Violence."

The game offers three play modes: Indoor Range, Outdoor Range, and Skeet Shoot. Each mode offers three difficulties (Shakey, Hot Shot, and Dead Eye), which affect the number of targets that appear and their movement speed.

Each game mode focuses on a different weapon type: Indoor Range features handguns, Outdoor Range features rifles, and Skeet Shoot features shotguns. The first gun in each mode is free; other firearms are available for 99 cents each, and tapping on one brings up a confirmation message for the purchase. A player could spend nine dollars in total on the game.

Each round lasts for one minute, and players are awarded for hitting targets (no distinction is made for a bullseye) and penalized for misses. Online leaderboards are available via Game Center.

Is It Educational?
A little. The loading screen displays gun safety tips and facts about the NRA, which players can scroll through. These include basic gun safety rules like "Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction," "Use only the correct ammunition for your gun," and "Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot." There are only about a dozen messages in total, which the game cycles through randomly.

The main menu also contains an "NRA Info" button, which provides a variety of links to the NRA website covering gun training, news, and information pertaining to gun laws. Ultimately, NRA: Practice Range doesn't teach players a whole lot about guns, and some aspects such as the reloading of shotguns and the depiction of skeet shooting are not very realistic. The fact that you have to buy the majority of the game's weapons makes it feel less like an educational tool and more like a commercial product.

Is It Hypocritical?
No. NRA: Practice Range does not glorify violence, or really guns for that matter. The closest it comes to depicting violence are some vaguely human-shaped targets in the Indoor Range mode (pictured above), which have red targets denoting the chest and head areas. This clearly isn't the type of gaming experience the NRA condemned in the aftermath of the shooting in Connecticut, and the game depicts guns being used responsibly and in a non-violent matter (some argue that the act of firing a weapon is always violent, but that's a different discussion entirely).

Others have criticized the timing of the game's release, but it's not clear whether the NRA had any control over when Apple chose to make the game available on the App Store, and if the game is meant to promote responsible gun use, then maybe the timing isn't all that inappropriate. Either way, no one is blowing a gasket over the release of Devil May Cry this week. I don't see a reason for controversy.

Is It Fun?
Not especially. The gyroscopic controls work well enough (I can't say the same for the analog control scheme that's also available), but NRA: Practice Range is a one-dimensional game. There's no reason to buy the extra guns, and most gamers will probably lose interest after a few rounds. If you're a parent looking to engage your child in a discussion about gun safety, however, it may provide an easy entry point to the conversation.

Final Thoughts:
The NRA has been harshly criticized over the past few weeks. The organization's condemnation of violent video games and movies has been decried as an attempt to avoid a discussion about gun control, and its proposals to put armed guards in every school and create a database of the mentally ill have been dismissed by some as unrealistic. If there's one thing everyone should be able to agree on, however, it's that more and better gun safety education is a good thing. While NRA: Practice Range doesn't completely accomplish that goal, I would call it a step in the right direction; summarily condemning it only serves to shut down an opportunity for a conversation about gun violence that we as responsible adults should be eager to have. 

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