WASHINGTON - A new shooting game for mobile devices by the National Rifle Association is no longer being labeled suitable for preschoolers. "NRA: Practice Range" changed its age recommendation on Tuesday from 4 years and up to at least 12 years of age with an added warning that the game depicts "intense" and "realistic" violence.
The move came amid pushback from liberal organizations that called the game tasteless and its timing politically motivated. It was released Sunday. This week is the one-month anniversary of the shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 children and six adults dead, and the same week President Barack Obama is expected to announce his plan for curbing gun violence.
A progressive advocacy organization, Courage Campaign, on Tuesday circulated an online petition asking Apple to drop the free mobile application from its store.
"This is a classic example of everything that is wrong with the NRA. Instead of coming to the table with constructive ideas to reduce gun violence, the NRA is instead developing a video game that glorifies guns and gun violence," said Adam Bink, director of the group's online programs.
Apple declined to comment.
The NRA did not respond to repeated calls for comment. It also hasn't claimed ownership of the game, with no mention of it on its website. But the app refers to itself as the "National Rifle Association's new mobile nerve centre, delivering one-touch access to the NRA network of news, laws, facts, knowledge, safety tips, educational materials and online resources." The main menu in the game includes an NRA information section that leads users to the lobbying group's website.
MEDL Media of Fountain Valley, Calif., which developed the game, also did not respond to requests for comment. The New York Times reported late Tuesday that MEDL had confirmed that the game had been commissioned by the NRA.
In just two days, the mobile app generated more than 300 online reviews. That figure jumped to 519 by late Tuesday, with an overwhelming number of reviews praising the NRA for defending the Second Amendment to the Constitution and teaching firearms safety.
The game actually sounds more stirring than it is, which is really a high-tech pamphlet to disseminate the NRA's political message. The game lets a user fire various simulated weapons to hit targets on shooting ranges. The app does not depict the shooting of living targets. The only thing resembling a life form is the camouflage-clad right hand players see holding the gun, and the occasional left hand used to reload.
A week after the Newtown shooting, NRA executive Wayne LaPierre blamed violent video games and movies, and not guns, for contributing to mass shootings.
"There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people," he said during a Dec. 21 news conference.
The NRA mobile app allows players to use one type of gun per range: A pistol for indoors, an assault rifle for outdoors and a shotgun for skeet shooting. As part of the free app players can use an M9 pistol, an M16 rifle and a Mossberg 500 shotgun. Other brands, like an AK-47 assault rifle, are available for in-app download at .99 cents each.
The object is to hit as many targets of varying size as possible in a minute, and there are three levels of difficulty within each range. The first two ranges allow 15 rounds of ammunition without reloading, the third five. The guns look, act and sound a lot like their real-life counterparts. When a player fires, a blast of light shows and the gun bucks a little.
The targets are shaped like giant martini shakers, a bull's eye circle and a clay disc.
While each range or gun or level is loading, there's an NRA tip or a fact, like "Know your target and what is behind it," and "Always keep a gun pointed in a safe direction."
Long reported from New York.
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