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November 28, 2014

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OTHER VOICES:

The real problem now isn’t a game

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I can tell that the controversial new National Rifle Association shooting-game app is popular for iPhone and iPad users because when I downloaded it last week, I was asked for a nickname and had trouble securing my first six choices.

Maybe I should have known better than to think “eagleeye” was available. But I was surprised that “eagleeye1” and “eagleeye50” (a reflection of my age) also were gone. My patience thinning, I tried “justshootme.” No luck. Same with “justshootme1” and “justshootme50.” By now I was thinking, “This is ridiculous.” Aha! Too bad “ridiculous” was taken. But if you see “ridiculous50” on the leaderboard, it’s me.

After revealing my skills as “shaky” (as opposed to “hot shot” or “dead eye”), I then spent a few minutes firing an M-9 pistol at coffin-shape targets on the indoor range, then an M-16 on the outdoor range, and finally a Mossberg 500 while skeet shooting. I didn’t want to spend the 99 cents necessary to upgrade my weaponry in any game scenario, which would have allowed me to shoot an AK-47 (among other choices) on the outdoor range.

I thought it was OK, but unless we’re talking “Pac-Man” or “Asteroids,” I’m no judge of video games. So I handed it to our 12-year-old, who is eight years older than the beginning age recommended by the manufacturer.

“Not bad,” was his initial review. “But I’d probably erase it after about 20 minutes.”

He requires more stimulation than the NRA’s somewhat clunky, one-dimensional game, such as his current favorite, Skyrim. Whenever I walk in the room, it looks as if he’s battling a dragon while trying to get to something called the Temple of Miraak.

“So what’s the object of Skyrim?” I asked.

“Same as the others: have fun,” he said.

“Some people think if you play these games you will grow up to be violent,” I commented, suddenly mindful of the fact that he has a BB gun and had his pre-existing interest in archery fueled by watching “The Hunger Games.”

“I’m one of millions, Dad,” he said. “If three guys out of millions do something stupid, what does that tell you?”

Touche.

Of course, not everyone is as dismissive as our youngest son. When the New York Daily News asked public advocate Bill de Blasio what he thought about the gun lobby’s new game, he said: “If the NRA is looking for a new app, they should download Google Earth, because they seem to be living on a different planet.”

That the NRA was tone-deaf as to its timing is beyond debate, matched only in its callousness by the group’s Web video that drags the first family’s daughters into the fray. (“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?”)

And like many parents, I’m re-evaluating my policing of the family room. I’m willing to concede room for improvement but not a direct causal connection between the family TV and Newtown or Aurora. The rule in our house is that you can’t play a game where cops are targets. That means no “Grand Theft Auto.” Terrorists, however, are fair game. Apparently I’m much more lax than Gov. Chris Christie, who told MSNBC that he doesn’t allow games such as “Call of Duty” in his house.

“You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing ‘Call of Duty’ and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real-life effects of violence,” Christie said.

Do I think our culture plays a role in today’s gun violence? Maybe. But it’s certainly not the most pressing problem, and President Barack Obama agrees.

When he announced his broad gun initiative last week, he issued a presidential memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence, a move that presumably will look at whether our culture of violence begets violence. Otherwise, his announcement was silent as to video and film despite the fact that Vice President Joe Biden had met with industry representatives as part of his investigation. Maybe that’s because, in 2011, the Supreme Court struck down a California ban on selling violent video games to minors.

More probable is that the president and vice president recognize that, for the time being, debating things such as the NRA’s new app is a low priority. More pressing in the battle to reduce gun violence is the need to deal with this fundamental fact: We have a disproportionate number of guns in our country, and far too many of them have ended up in the wrong hands.

Once we deal with that, we can have the broader conversation.

Michael Smerconish writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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  1. Did the NRA really object to universal background checks because "it would interfere with holiday gift-giving"?