National Rifle Association of America

views updated Jun 08 2018

National Rifle Association of America

11250 Waples Mill Road
Fairfax, Virginia 22030
Telephone: (703) 267-1000
Toll Free: (800) NRA-3888
Fax: (703) 267-3938
Web site:

Nonprofit Organization
1871 as the National Rifle Association
Employees: 450
Sales: $131.3 million (1998)
NAIC: 81394 Political Organizations

The National Rifle Association is a nonprofit organization promoting gun safety and lobbying for its interpretation of the second amendment, the right to bear arms. (The amendment in full, subject to various modern interpretations, reads: A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.) Long respected by some and feared by others on Capitol Hill, the Associations impressive influence extends beyond its three million members. The NRA reaches one million young men and women through educational programs, including 40,000 in its young hunters program. Moreover, 6,000 marksmen compete nationally in the Associations shooting competitions.

Yankee Origins

The NRA traces its origins to the 1870s, when two former Union Army officersColonel William Conant Church and General George Wingateformed the National Rifle Association (NRA) to foster marksmanship. The NRA was chartered in the state of New York on November 17, 1871. Another well-known Civil War veteran, General Ambrose Burnside, served as the groups first president. Burnside had been a U.S. Senator and governor of Rhode Island. Although he lobbied very effectively for funding, he was not otherwise actively involved in the fledgling group and resigned within a year.

Through the founders efforts, the state of New York granted the NRA $25,000 to create a practice ground on a 100-acre lot on Long Island. The Creedmoor range opened there in 1873 and hosted the Irish Rifle Association in a two-entrant international shooting competition held the next year. The event drew 8,000 spectators. Even in those early days, however, the NRA faced anti-gun sentiment in the cities, and in 1892 the land grant was rescinded and the range was moved to Sea Girt, New Jersey.

New York governor Alonzo Cornell, predicting a long age of peace, cut the NRAs funding in 1880. However, technological innovations and events overseas soon made weapons training relevant again. Dutch South African farmers demonstrated the effectiveness of new, highly accurate rifles in the Boer War, which led to a renewed interest in marksmanship and military preparedness in the British Empire and in America.

A revitalized NRA began setting up programs at colleges and military schools in 1903; within three years there were more than 200 young men competing at the shooting contest in New Jersey.

NRA headquarters moved to Washington, D.C. in 1907. According to Osha Gray Davidsons book, Under Fire, the NRA persuaded Congress and the War Department to first sell, then give away, surplus rifles and ammunition to NRA-sponsored shooting clubs. Between World War I and World War II, 200,000 rifles were reportedly distributed at cost to NRA members, whose ranks were ballooning. The NRA also received federal money and army assistance for its shooting competitions during this time.

The Associations Legislative Affairs Division was created in 1934 to disseminate information to its members regarding pending gun control legislation. Among the vehicles of communication was the groups flagship publication, The American Rifleman, published sporadically at first and later gaining a large and regular readership. A huge NRA letter-writing campaign helped temper one wave of gun control sentiment so that the National Firearms Act of 1934 would extend only to regulating machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. In 1938, the NRA supported provisions to limit the sale of guns across state lines and prevent the sale of guns to fugitives and convicted felons.

At the dawn of World War II, the NRA collected 7,000 guns to aid Great Britains defense. When the United States was drawn into the war, the NRA offered its facilities and encour-aged its members to guard factories.

In the postwar years, the NRA focused on hunting issues, developing a pioneering hunter education program with the state of New York. The Association also began a program for instructing policemen in marksmanship; it would introduce the countrys only national law enforcement certification program in 1960. Membership in the NRA reached nearly 300,000 and employment 140 in the 1950s.

The Controversial 1960s and 1970s

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 prompted the nation to rethink the availability of guns in the United States, which ultimately led to the Gun Control Act of 1968. This act banned the sale of guns through the mail; Lee Harvey Oswald had ordered his infamous rifle from the pages of American Rifleman for just $19.95.

A new NRA shooting range, Camp Perry, had been constructed in Ohio on the Lake Erie shore, and during this time it became home to the NRAs National Matches. The U.S. government supplied $3 million a year and the use of 5,000 troops a year for these tournaments. Opposition to such government aid to the NRA was challenged; Senator Edward Kennedy attempted to cut off the financial aid in the late 1960s and routinely fought NRA-backed bills in Congress throughout his career.

The NRA launched a new magazine, The American Hunter, in 1973, addressing hunting issues only. Two years later, it formed the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), designed specifically as a lobby for second amendment rights. The ILA was headed by Harlon Bronson Carter, a Texan controversial for his involvement in the shooting murder of a Mexican youth, for which he was convicted and later cleared. The goals of the NRA during the 1970s had become two-fold. Sportsmanship and safety, embodied in The American Hunter, competed for attention with the role of the ILA as a gun lobby.

During this time, the NRA acquired 37,000 acres of land in the New Mexico wilderness. Controversy in the organization arose, according to Davidsons Under Fire, when some proposed that the New Mexico lands be designated as a shooting center, while others favored an outdoor center, dedicated to camping, wilderness survival, environmentalism, and other wide-ranging concerns, in addition to marksmanship and safety. The rift in the NRAbetween those supporting the single issue of second amendment rights and those hoping to broaden the scope of the NRA culminated, according to Davidson, at the NRA national convention of 1977 in Cincinnati. Led by Carter, the so-called hard-liners took over the convention in what became known as the Cincinnati Revolt. In short, Carter and his supporters, fervently opposed to any form of gun control, wrested control of the NRA from the existing leaders (whose concerns included sportsmanship and environmentalism), turning the NRA into a single-issue gun lobby, according to Davidson. Carter was named executive vice-president, the most powerful position in the organization.

Strength in the Reagan Years

With newly reorganized management and purpose, the NRA entered the 1980s on more cohesive footing. Energies were focused on opposing gun control. When a few local communi-ties, such as Morton Grove, Illinois, enacted city ordinances to ban handguns all together in 1981, the NRA fought the ban unsuccessfully in court. The group then battled similar legislation on the state level, helping defeat Proposition 15 in California, which called for a ban on the sale of new handguns. However, the NRA was unable to overturn a new ban on handguns in Maryland in 1988.

A national print advertising campaign launched in January 1982 gained wide attention. With the tagline I am the NRA, a variety of individualsincluding an eight year-old boy, former astronaut Wally Schirra, former Dallas Cowboys cheer-leader Jo Anne Hall, actor/singer Roy Rogers, and others highlighted the groups diverse member base. While several magazines refused to run the ads, particularly those ads depicting handguns, some 45 magazines did run them, and they were credited with raising the NRAs profile considerably. The NRA had more than one million members in 1977; its ranks would reach 2.6 million by the time Ronald Reagan became the first U.S. president to address the group in 1983. Reagans address to the NRA was regarded as an important affirmation of NRA principles; the president averred that we will never disarm any American who seeks to protect his or her family from fear or harm.

G. Ray Arnett was picked to succeed Carter in 1985. Sur-rounded by scandal, however, Arnett lasted only until May 1986, when ILA leader J. Warren Cassidy became the next executive vice-president.

Company Perspectives:

While widely recognized today as a major political force and as Americas foremost defender of second amendment rights, the NRA has, since its inception, been the premier firearms education organization in the world. But our successes would not be possible without the tireless efforts and countless hours of service our nearly three million members have given to champion second amendment rights and support NRA programs. As former Clinton spokesman George Stephanopoulos said, Let me make one small vote for the NRA. Theyre good citizens. They call their Congressmen. They write. They vote. They contribute. And they get what they want over time.

In 1986, the NRA had three million members and income of about $66 million a year. During this time, the group was sponsoring the McClure-Volkmer Act, which amended restrictions in the Gun Control Act of 1968 and was eventually passed. The group also fought to temper legislation banning Teflon-coated cop killer bullets. By this time, the issue of gun control in the United States had become highly fragmented and charged with emotion. In fact, the Association was beginning to find itself on different sides of gun control issues with much of the countrys police force. In the late 1980s, the NRA ran political ads and direct mail campaigns against several police chiefs who favored regulating handguns.

Although many of its members were Democrats, the NRA spent an estimated $7 million to defeat Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, a staunch supporter of gun control, in the 1988 presidential campaign. Republican George Bush broke ranks with some in the NRA while campaigning for the presidential nomination, calling for a ban on plastic handguns. Still, as an avid hunter, veteran, and NRA member, he appealed to the group and won its approval.

New Challenges in the 1990s

As the U.S. public became ever more aware of increases in violence involving firearms, the NRA again sought to address issues beyond gun ownership. The NRA Foundation was created in 1990 to raise tax-exempt funds for gun education. The Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program, started two years earlier, taught elementary and middle school children to avoid guns and report them to adults. Moreover, Refuse to Be a Victim seminars, introduced in 1993, lectured women on personal safety issues. According to the NRA, three out of four women would suffer through a violent crime in their lifetimes.

The early 1990s were difficult years financially for the organization. According to NRA figures cited by Fortune magazine, the NRA lost $10 million in 1991, $38 million in 1992, and $22 million in 1993. In 1991, the board replaced Warren Cassidywhose reputation was tainted by a sex scandal, less than stellar financial results, and diminishing popularity due to what some perceived as a willingness to compromise the Associations missionwith long-time politico Wayne LaPierre, another former leader of the groups lobbying arm, the ILA.

The NRA then faced several challenges to its mission. Ef-forts to overturn New Jerseys ban on semiautomatic weapons and Virginias gun-rationing program in 1993 both failed. In the late 1980s, the NRA had lobbied unsuccessfully against a national ban of certain semiautomatic assault rifles. Moreover, after several years of struggle, in 1994 the Brady Bill passed. Named for White House press secretary Jim Brady, who was shot and partially paralyzed during an attempt on Reagans life, the bill mandated a five-day waiting period and a background check for gun purchasers. (This process would replaced by a computerized verification system run by the FBI in 1998.) However, the Brady Bill did not apply to flea markets and gun shows, and gun sales at these venues boomed.

Annual revenues for the NRA approached $150 million in 1994 as the group attracted a more active and high profile membership. The group spent $15 million on a new headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, in the mid-1990s and also invested in a new computer system.

To address issues of increasing violent crime in the country, the NRA called for more prisons, tougher sentences, and more law enforcement officers. However, the Association continued to struggle with public relations issues and alienated certain law enforcement groups. Congressman John Dingell, an NRA board member, had called the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) a jackbooted group of fascists in one of the groups promotional films in 1981. The NRA repeated the rhetoric in a 1995 fundraising letter, prompting former president George Bush to rescind his life membership.

In October 1997, nine firearms manufacturers, including Smith & Wesson, announced they were voluntarily adding child safety locks to their products. The unprecedented break from NRA policy was prompted by a litigious climate that had cities such as Chicago and New Orleans filing lawsuits similar to the ones that had been launched against the cigarette industry. The gun makers risked a boycott by NRA members who opposed compromise of any kind. According to Newsweek, the publicly-traded Sturm, Ruger firm had faced such a boycott earlier in the decade after it came out in favor of limiting high capacity ammo clips for assault weapons.

In 1997, in the face of such challenges, the NRA began publishing The American Guardian, designed to appeal to a more general audience, with less emphasis on technical subjects and more on self-defense and sporting uses for firearms. Membership in the NRA, after reaching at 3.5 million, had fallen by about a million in the mid-1990s. Still, the group held the largest convention in its history in 1998, attracting 41,000 attendees. In the same year, the NRA elected as its president the actor Charlton Heston, perhaps best known for his performance as Moses in the epic film The Ten Commandments. Another famous actor, Tom Selleck, appeared in a new round of magazine advertising for the NRA.

In the late 1990s, following several highly publicized inci-dents of violence involving guns among American teenagers, some polls indicated that 70 to 80 percent of Americans favored stricter gun control laws. However, Newsweek reported, the fear of political retaliation from the NRA killed a new round of gun control bills in June 1999. NRA membership climbed again late in the decade. By May 2000, the Association reported 3.7 million members fighting challenges to the right to bear arms.

Key Dates:

The NRA is chartered in New York.
Shooting programs for students is set up.
National headquarters moves to Washington, D.C.
The Legislative Affairs Division is created to organize political action.
NRA launches a hunter education program.
First significant gun control legislation in 30 years passes.
Institute for Legislative Action, the NRAs lobbying unit, is created.
Reagan becomes the first U.S. president to address the NRA.
The Brady Bill, calling for waiting periods and background checks, is passed.
A new headquarters building is constructed.
NRA hosts its largest convention ever and names actor Charlton Heston president.

Principal Divisions

Institute for Legislative Action; NRA Foundation.

Principal Competitors

Handgun Control, Inc.

Further Reading

Bai, Matt, Caught in the Cross-Fire, Newsweek, June 28, 1999, pp. 3132.

, Clouds Over Gun Valley, Newsweek, August 23, 1999, pp. 3435.

Birnbaum, Jeffrey H., Under the Gun, Fortune, December 6, 1999, pp. 21118.

Davidson, Osha Gray, Guns and Poses, New Republic, October 11, 1993, p. 12.

, Under Fire: The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control, New York: Henry Holt, 1993.

Drake, Donald C., NRA Made Anti-Gun Lawmakers Pay in Election; Group Targeted Oklahoma Race, Times-Picayune (New Orleans), December 4, 1994, p. A8.

Fineman, Howard, The Gun War Comes Home, Newsweek, August 23, 1999, pp. 2632.

France, Mike, William C. Symonds, and Seanna Browder, Can Gunmakers Disarm Their Attackers?, Business Week, November 10, 1997, p. 94.

Gilmore, Russell S., Crack Shots and Patriots: The National Rifle Association and Americas Military-Sporting Tradition, 18711929, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1975.

Graham, George, US Gun Group Returns to Clinton Offensive: NRA

Chief Defends Fund-Raising Letter, Financial Times, May 22, 1995, p. 6.

Gun Control: Bang Bang, Youre Dead, Economist, September 30, 2000, pp. S26S27.

Guns in America: Arms and the Man, Economist, July 3, 1999, pp. 1719.

Hornblower, Margot, Have Gun, Will Travel, Time, July 6,1998, pp. 4446.

Leddy, Edward, Magnum Force Lobby, Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1987.

Novak, Viveca, Picking a Fight with the NRA, Time, May 31, 1999, p. 54.

Smolowe, Jill, and Andrea Sachs, The NRA: Go Ahead, Make Our Day, Time, May 29, 1995, p. 18.

Trefethen, James, and James Serven, Americans and Their Guns: The National Rifle Associations Story Through Nearly a Century of Service to the Nation, Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1967.

Wounding the Gun Lobby, Time, March 29, 1993, p. 29.

Frederick C. Ingram

National Rifle Association

views updated May 09 2018


The National Rifle Association (NRA) is an organization that promotes the sport of shooting rifles and pistols in the United States. In 2001, the NRA had replaced the american association of retired persons as Washington's most powerful lobbying group, according to Fortune magazine's top 25 list. The organization reports a membership of more than 4 million, which included 1 million new members alone in 2000. The membership includes hunters, target shooters, gun collectors, firearms manufacturers, and police personnel. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., the NRA has been a dominant voice in the debate over gun control.

With a budget of more than $200 million, the NRA maintains its own $35 million state-ofthe-art lobbying machine, which includes as its major branch the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. The lobbying component is complete with an in-house telemarketing department, its own newscast, and 1 million political organizers at the precinct level. The NRA considers itself America's foremost defender of the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which preserves the right of the people to bear arms.

The NRA platform prefers gun safety programs and the intensified enforcement of existing federal gun laws to an increase in the number of restrictions on gun owners.

Formed by New York charter in 1871, the NRA defined its original goal to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis," according to co-founder Colonel William C. Church. He and fellow co-founder, fellow Union veteran George Wingate, were dismayed by the lack of sportsmanship shown by Union troops and wanted to set up a rifle range for practice. With contributions from New York State, the new organization purchased the Creed Farm on Long Island in 1872 and opened it to members in 1873 under the name of "Creedmoor," the first official NRA shooting range. When political opposition to the promotion of marksmanship arose in New York, Creedmoor was deeded back to the state. A new range was established in Sea Girt, New Jersey.

The NRA targeted America's youth from the onset, and by 1903 was promoting shooting sports and competition matches through the establishment of rifle clubs at all major colleges, universities, and military academies. In addition to training and education in marksmanship, the association published The American Rifleman, which helped keep its members abreast of new bills and laws affecting firearms. In 1934, the NRA formed its Legislative Affairs Division, which engaged in direct mail efforts to apprise members of legislative facts regarding and analyses of pending bills. Although it was not involved in direct lobbying efforts at that time, the NRA later formed the Institute for Legislative Action in 1975, organized for the "the political defense of the Second Amendment."

During world war ii, the association offered its shooting ranges to the U.S. government and helped develop training materials for personnel and industrial security. NRA members also volunteered to reload ammunition for those guarding war plants. Through a series of gun control laws enacted between the world war i and II, Britain found itself virtually disarmed and vulnerable when Germany began its European invasions. The NRA's efforts to encourage assistance for Britain in 1940 resulted in the collection of more than 7,000 firearms for Britain's defense against German invasion.

Following the war, the NRA concentrated on the hunting community and in 1949, in conjunction with the state of New York, set up the first hunter education program. In 1973, it launched its second magazine, The American Hunter. Although hunter education courses eventually became the assumed responsibility of state fish and game departments, the NRA continued to manage its Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC), a program that as of 2003 was active in 43 states and three Canadian provinces, with youth enrollment of more than 40,000.

Since 1956, the association has been instrumental in law enforcement training as well. With the introduction of its Police Firearms Instructor Certification Program in 1960, the NRA became the only national trainer of law enforcement officers, and by 2000, more than 10,000 individuals had become NRA-certified graduates. The association's certified instructors train about 750,000 civilian gun owners each year, conducting gun safety programs for children in addition to personal security and protection seminars, as well as marksmanship training, for adults.

The NRA in the 1990s, in addition to fighting gun control, worked to pass state laws that made it easier for gun owners to carry their weapons in public. The "right-to-carry" movement is based on the idea that any trained, law-abiding citizen has a right to get a permit from the government to carry a firearm. As a result of the NRA's lobbying efforts, 14 states have passed right-to-carry laws and 24 other states have liberalized their statutes.

The NRA has also fought efforts by city and county governments to regulate firearms. It has lobbied for state preemption statutes, which declare that only the state government may pass firearms laws. Through its efforts, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and several other states passed preemption laws in 1995. Despite its longtime success in fighting gun control, the increasingly belligerent NRA rhetoric became a problem for the organization in the mid-1990s. Former President george h.w. bush, a lifetime member, resigned from the NRA to protest a fundraising letter that contained anti-government statements.

The association announced the publication of its third periodical, The American Guardian, which proved to be less esoteric in content and catered more to topics such as recreational use of firearms and self-defense. Concomitant with the new publication was an internal effort to purge the organization of radical, right-wing gun enthusiasts and develop a more general appeal. From 1997 to 2003, actor Charleton Heston served as the organization's president. Kayne Robinson, a former police officer and Marine, took over as president after Heston announced that he was suffering from a neurological disorder

Politically and historically, supporters for both the NRA and the gun-control movement have split along party lines. The NRA essentially backed so-called conservative candidates and views, such as those typically held by the republican party or the libertarian party; those who sought stricter limitations on gun ownership tended to support Democratic candidates. At the end of the twentieth century, the delineation became more nebulous, not only among politicians but also between lobbying groups. While the organization generally opposes all forms of gun control as abridgements upon individuals' constitutional rights, many NRA members had aligned with what they refer to as "common-sense" gun control efforts. The militant gun control movement, however, splintered into extremist and middle-ground factions within their own ranks. The NRA generally holds that the criminals create gun violence, not the 48 percent of the electorate who constitute law-abiding gun owners.

further readings

Davidson, Osha Gray. 1998. Under Fire: The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control. Expanded ed. Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press.

LaPierre, Wayne R. 2002. Shooting Straight: Telling the Truth About Guns in America. Washington, D.C.: Regnery.

Rodengen, Jeffrey L. 2002. NRA: An American Legend. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Write Stuff Enterprises.

National Rifle Association. Available online at <> (accessed July 29, 2003).

Patrick, Brian Anse. 2002. The National Rifle Association and the Media: The Motivating Force of Negative Coverage. New York: Peter Lang.


Gun Control; Libertarian Party.

National Rifle Association

views updated May 18 2018


NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION (NRA) is a voluntary group dedicated to the promotion and proper use of firearms in the United States. It was founded in 1871 in New York City by William Church and George Wingate. Its original purpose was to teach marksmanship to the New York National Guard for riot control in the city. The association languished until the twentieth century, when the deadly accuracy of untrained farmers with rifles in the Boer War awakened military interest in the NRA in 1901. The U.S. Army began funding NRA-sponsored shooting matches in 1912 at the NRA firing range on Long Island, New York. The army also gave away surplus or outdated weapons and ammunition to NRA chapters for their members' use.

Beginning with the National Firearms Act of 1934, the association began lobbying Congress to prevent firearms control legislation. Despite the public outcries over the indiscriminate use of firearms by criminals, this law barred only machine guns and sawed-off shotguns from interstate commerce. In the National Firearms Act of 1936, the NRA succeeded in getting handguns, including the infamous Saturday night specials, exempted from interstate prohibitions.

After World War II, the NRA became more of a leisure and recreation club than a lobbying organization. Its espoused purposes during this time included firearm safety education, marksmanship training, and shooting for recreation. Its national board floated suggestions to change the NRA's name to the National Outdoors Association. After three high-profile assassinations using firearms—John F. Kennedy (1963), Robert Kennedy (1968), and Martin Luther King Jr. (1968)—the Democratic-controlled Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968, ending mail-order sales of weapons. The army ceased providing funds and guns for the NRA-sponsored shooting matches in 1977. In response, conservative hard-liners demanded the NRA's return to legislative lobbying. Led by the Texan Harlan Carter, they staged the Cincinnati Revolt at the annual membership meeting in 1977, stripping power from the elected president and giving it to the appointed executive director—Harlan Carter. As part of the nationwide conservative surge in 1980, Carter turned the NRA's moribund Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) over to professional lobbyists Wayne LaPierre and James Jay Baker. These changes turned the NRA into a single-issue lobbying organization par excellence. Its membership had jumped to three million by 1984, with fifty-four state chapters and fourteen hundred local organizations. The locals became a grassroots political power, ready to inundate newspapers with letters to the editor and politicians' offices with progun ownership materials.

Most of the membership espoused conservative causes generally. Their reward for supporting Ronald Reagan was the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986, which weakened the 1968 law's gun availability restraints. Nevertheless, in 1987 the NRA refused to endorse Robert Bork's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court by claiming itself first and foremost a progun group, not a conservative organization. In addition, as a federal judge Bork had failed—in NRA eyes—to protect retail gun sales to the full. After seven years of maneuvering, NRA lobbying helped limit the provisions of the Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993—known as the Brady Bill—to just a five-day waiting period and a federal record-keeping system for all gun purchases. During the 2000 presidential election, the NRA spent approximately $20 million. Democratic Party analysts credited the NRA with swinging at least two states—Arkansas and Tennessee—and thus the election, to the Republican candidate.

The NRA also worked other political venues in its single-minded efforts to thwart government gun controls. At the NRA's annual meeting in Kansas City in 2001, its firearms law seminar offered legal advice, strategies, and theories for undermining local government enforcement of existing gun laws. The new attorney general, NRA life member John Ashcroft, also initiated Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation rule changes weakening waiting periods and record-keeping requirements for firearm ownership.


Davidson, Osha Gray. Under Fire: The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998.


See alsoBrady Bill ; Gun Control .

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National Rifle Association