“Start Them Young” – The Industry Finds Its “‘Reality’ Video Game” in 3-Gun Competition

In the competition for the recreation time of youth, video games are seen by the gun industry as both a threat to, and an opportunity for, marketing firearms to youth.

Bud Pidgeon, president of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance warns, “By the time kids are in fifth grade, or even before, they’re already being pulled away by the allure of video games, organized sports or other activities.”87 And an article detailing NSSF’s 2015 Shooting Sports Summit warned, “What those young people appear to be most interested in, at least superficially, is playing computer games, tapping on tiny keyboards and communicating with their friends through social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other websites.”88

Yet while video games are seen as a competitor for the leisure time of children, the argument is frequently made, both inside and outside the industry, that first-person shooter games, and their use of easily identified real-world weapons, offer marketing opportunities.

According to Ralph Vaughn, who negotiates licensing deals with video game manufacturers on behalf of Barrett Firearms, manufacturer of 50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifles as well as assault rifles, “It is hard to qualify to what extent rifle sales have increased as a result of being in games…But video games expose our brand to a young audience who are considered possible future owners.”89

In a column on the website Gun Nuts Media, author Caleb Giddings discusses the guns used in the latest edition of the video game series Battlefield. After discussing the video, he concludes:

There is a real point to all this digital nonsense though, and something that I saved for last. This game and games like it are absolutely how the next generation of gun owners are getting introduced to firearms. The incredible amounts of realism present in the depiction of firearms in game is a good thing. I guarantee that people will come into gun ranges and say “I shot something just like that in Battlefield.” The immediate response of any employee of any range in the nation should be “that’s awesome! Want to try the real deal?”90

Among the concurring statements in the comments section of the article91 were:

  • “I agree 100% that games like this can increase the number of ‘gun people.’ In the range I work in, It’s very common to have younger people ask to see then rental guns, and can name many of them off (Beretta 92, AR, Glock, 1911, etc.) based on game experience. Then they get to try one for real and most of them are hooked! I don’t know if it’s what the game designers intended, but it works.”
  • “Though gaming may be more realistic when it comes to firearms and operating, like you said, many people are being introduced to firearms through mediums like this. It is always great that video game devs would put a lot of attention to detail when it comes to subjects like this and seeing them play out IRL [In Real Life]…”
  • “The last generation of games have a big influence on the purchasing decisions of prospective gun owners of a certain age. I dare say that half of the PS90s sold are probably because of Counter-Strike, and I think it’s responsible for some of the demand for Beretta Elites, as well.”

As accessory manufacturer Firefield sums it up: “A majority of Firefield users grew up watching action-packed movies, TV shows and playing interactive video games that encompass tactical gear and military-style weapons platforms. Our optics and shooting accessories allow shooters to turn what they’ve seen on the screen into a reality.”92

In 2007, Chris Dolnack, National Shooting Sports Foundation senior vice president, used the term “a ‘reality’ video game” to describe the organization’s Scholastic Rifle Program (SRP) begun in 2003, telling Junior Shooters magazine, “We developed an action-packed reactive target format – a ‘reality’ video game – that is sure to be a hit with today’s young shooter.”93 While the Scholastic Rifle Program apparently failed to fill that niche, another industry-promoted shooting event has: 3-Gun competition.

3-Gun Competition Guns
Photo from the website of the Tri County Gun Club in Polo, Illinois, illustrating firearms and accessories needed for 3-Gun competition

Writing at the website The Truth About Guns, Nick Leghorn promises, “3-gun is as close to a real-life first person shooter video game as you’ll get without joining the military.”94 As described by Leghorn:

3-gun gets its name from the fact that you use three different types of firearms over the course of the competition: a shotgun, a rifle, and a pistol. You score points by hitting designated targets, which include clay pigeons, cardboard silhouettes, steel targets of varying sizes, and anything else the Range Officer designates as a target….Competitors lose points for hitting “no shoot” targets (hostages, friendlies, etc.) or skipping targets/obstacles. Their score is augmented by the time it takes to complete the course of fire. The person with the combination of fastest time and best accuracy wins.95

In a video accompanying the article showing a shooter preparing for a 3-Gun match, a participant is asked, “How are you going to game this stage knowing nothing about it?” He replies, “I think it’s kinda like [the video game] Doom, run through, keep upgrading weapons as you kill bad guys, right?”96

Such competitions frequently revolve around fantasy scenarios in which firepower is essential for the hero-shooter to emerge victorious. In its description of its 3-Gun Tactical Match, one gun club explains:

This type of match has the shooter shooting centerfire rifle, centerfire pistol, and shotgun (.410 or larger) at paper ‘bad guy,’ steel plates, and similar targets. In any given scenario, the shooter moves through an imaginary situation in which his life is placed in danger by the ‘bad guys.’ The scenario will vary from month to month, and will have a theme that practices real-life shooting and defensive skills. Examples of scenarios: exodus from a shopping mall overrun with terrorists, self defense at an ATM machine, Hollywood bank robbery, L.A. riots, home intruder, etc.97

In the video cited above, the “scenario” is spelled out for the 3-Gun participant as he’s led hooded, his wrists tied together, into a faux prison cell and seated (see video):

Video from The Truth About Guns shows a 3-Gun participant ready to start the competition

Okay all you troopers are such badasses you decided you were going to go hunt pirates in Somalia…Something went wrong and you are now the prisoner of a Somali warlord who wants to do very bad things to you because you’re an American…No one’s coming to rescue you so you have to rescue yourself…During your last interrogation you noticed that the chair was rough on the sides. That might assist you in breaking your bonds should you be given the opportunity…At that point you should find yourself a gun. Cause we’re Americans and we all like guns. Find one and start killing all the bad guys who are trying to do very bad things to you and your fellow Americans.98

In the pages of Junior Shooters, 3-Gun competitions are a mainstay, with child participants not only promoting the activity in its pages, but also lauding the gun companies that donate guns, ammunition, and other products: both for use in the activity and as prizes for the winners. As one article written by a 12- and 16-year-old states:

Cover Junior Shooters Summer 2012
A Summer 2012 Junior Shooters cover features 3-Gun competitors

Everything about 3-Gun is exactly the opposite of precision rifle. Precision to me is boring. All you do is stand there and shoot. With 3-Gun you get to “get into it.” You get to run around (as long as you’re safe), shoot “big boy guns,” and go through obstacles shooting at the targets. Can it get any better? I think not. I felt like an FBI or a SWAT agent going in for a big bust. It was an awesome feeling.99

Writing in Junior Shooters, Corey Shaw, age 17, exulted:

This summer I had the opportunity to shoot Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FNH) USA’s SCAR. SCAR is an acronym for Special Combat Assault Rifle. And, oh, boy, is it SPECIAL!

Due to the fact that the SCAR is so light, you can fling it around from target to target; sometimes it feels more like you’re shooting a .22 rather than a full-on combat rifle.100 101

In a Junior Shooters article titled, “Why I Love 3-Gun!,” 12-year-old Jake Denno writes:

Besides the three guns that have to be practiced with and brought to the match, many of the 3-Gun events will have special or stage weapons, as well…I have already been fortunate enough to be able to shoot a fully automatic UZI, an M-249 SAW and an M-203 grenade launcher. Some of the other special weapons in 3-Gun matches include MG-42 and M-60 machine guns, suppressed ARs and SCARs, but the one I really want to shoot is the Dillon Mini-Gun at the Larue Tactical match. Some events will also have manufacturers there who will have their pistols and shotguns as stage weapons. The only thing I do not like about stage and special weapons is that the score depends on how one shoots with an unfamiliar weapon. The triggers and sights are usually really different from what I shoot, and the guns don’t always run well. At the Ironman [competition], the UZI just would not function properly, and it really threw me off my plan for that stage.102

Junior Shooters Summer 2012 Mossberg AR Review
Junior Shooters, Summer 2012

Like the gun industry and gun lobby’s ongoing campaign to attempt to rebrand assault rifles as “Modern Sporting Rifles,” by labeling 3-Gun competitions a “sport,” their hope is to not only engage young shooters, but also that the activity offers the necessary cover to maintain the sale and possession of weapons that were originally designed for military or law enforcement use, including assault weapons that should be banned for import under the “sporting purposes” test of the Gun Control Act of 1968.103  As Michael Tenny, CEO of Cheaper Than Dirt!, an online vendor of guns, ammunition, and accessories that describes itself as “America’s Ultimate Shooting Sports Discounter,” told Junior Shooters, “We’re always happy to be able to support the shooting sports in any way possible, and we’re even more excited to help encourage new shooters by sponsoring the 3 Gun Nation Junior division…Faced with political pressure to ban the importation of the competition shotguns that have made 3-Gun into the sport it is today, I think it’s critical that we as an industry pull together to support all of the shooting sports in any way we can.”104

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