Me, I was always taught not to taunt angry dogs, or aggravate bullies who have good left hooks, or make faces at teachers who were mad at me for not turning in my homework. Thus I think the National Rifle Association may have been, if not foolish, needlessly provocative by choosing this moment in time to tweak its intractable and largely unhinged opposition by releasing a new smart phone app for iPhones and iPads, a 3D shooting range game.
Nevertheless, there is nothing unethical about it. This is a classic example of the ick factor at work. (The ick factor is the common phenomenon in which conduct that is unusual,strange, new, surprising or shocking are seen by many as unethical, when in fact they are just unusual, strange,new, surprising or shocking.)
Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy had a predictable reaction. “How dumb can you get?” he foamed. “How insulting can you be? How outrageous can your behavior be? How tone deaf can you be?” Yet the NRA has no obligation to withhold products its members or other shooting enthusiasts would want, use or enjoy because those who don’t want, use, or enjoy them are offended by their very existence. It’s a shooting range game, on an iPhone screen. By no rational definition is this an insult or outrageous. It is arguably unwise, because the gun opponents are demonstrably hysterical. That does not make the NRA’s app unethical.
Over on the Legal Ethics Forum, for example, the usually astute and reasonable Richard Painter notes ominously that the targets in the game are “shaped like people”(though they lack faces, heads, arms, legs, waists or torsos), and writes ruefully, “Its too late for Christmas, but keep this game in mind next year for the children who are still around.” Yes, a Sandy Hook child-slaughter epidemic surely beckons if iPhone users are encouraged to fire pixels at inch-high oblong shapes. “It strikes me that this is totally inappropriate,” George Ferguson, a member of the Newtown Legislative Council, told CNN. Ferguson also said he had not seen the game. If he hasn’t seen the game, what exactly does he think is inappropriate? CNN, meanwhile, as well as other news media, covered the app release while making a point of quoting NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s statement a week after the slayings that “There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people, through vicious, violent video games.” The comment isn’t relevant to the game. The game isn’t violent, vicious or bloody: it simulates a shooting range.
As this controversy rages, an anonymous computer game developer has released a violent video game online called, “Bullet to the Head of the NRA,” allowing players to shoot the president of the National Rifle Association. As far as I can determine, neither Richard Painter, nor George Fergusen, nor any of the other critics of the NRA have expressed disapproval of this diversion.
Maybe the NRA’s timing of its app isn’t so rash after all. The over-heated reaction to the game shows that its is the idea of guns, not just gun violence, that many of the post-Sandy Hook reform zealots loathe and fear, along with the NRA itself.
Pointer: Legal Ethics Forum