The Radical Evolution of the NRA – Brief History of the National Rifle Association

Over the decades, the NRA has become a powerful political force in American politics. However, the group’s beginnings were humble, and the goals of the organization have significantly changed over time. Some feel the NRA has become a more radical organization than it needs to be where gun laws are concerned. Naturally, NRA members would wholly disagree with this. There is no question, however, that the NRA is one of the most powerful lobbies in politics. How did this organization come to wield such power over so short a time? A look at the forces that molded the NRA reveals how it became the inexorable political force it is today.

Origins of the Group
The National Rifle Association was started by two Union army veterans who noted that soldiers from the North did not shoot as well as Confederate soldiers from the rural South. General George Wood Wingate and William Conant Church set out to start an organization that would provide training and shooting opportunities to advance good marksmanship throughout the country, both for recreation and for defense of the nation. They modeled their programs on European marksmanship training and constructed a shooting range at Creedmore on Long Island. The group was chartered in 1871 and began its extensive training program for gun owners throughout the United States.

Ambrose Burnside, First NRA President
Ambrose Burnside, a general in the Civil War and trained gunsmith, was chosen to be the first president of the new organization in 1871. General Burnside was responsible for the manufacture of a gun that bears his name, the “Burnside carbine.” He was also involved in the development of a number of railroads and other business ventures. One of the curious ironies of the group is that Burnside was a fervent federalist that would have considered the current discussion about taking up arms against the government as treason against the Union that he fought so hard to preserve.

The Well-Regulated Militia
The early leaders of the National Rifle Association took the qualifying phrase of the Second Amendment very seriously. They saw the “well-regulated militia” as critical to the nation’s defense against foreign invaders and internal conflicts. surviving gun violence They did not focus on individual ownerships of guns. In fact, the vast majority of the country’s males had never held or shot a gun in defense of the country. They were farmers, ranchers and townspeople that used their guns primarily for hunting. The early NRA focused on educating citizens on marksmanship with contests that were often sponsored by the federal government. They later branched out to gun safety classes, as well as training youth in safe hunting practices.

Advocate for Gun Control Legislation
During the 1920s and 30s, the NRA took a leadership role in designing gun legislation that sought to counteract the growing problem of violence from organized crime groups during Prohibition. The group crafted legislation for concealed-carry permitting, adding time to sentences for crimes committed with a gun, creating a one-day waiting period for gun sales and turning over records of gun sales to law enforcement agencies. Curiously, today’s NRA would look upon such legislation as the baldest intrusion of government onto the fundamental rights of Americans.

NRA Becomes A Lobby Group
The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action was established in 1975 to support its goal of promoting hunting, marksmanship and conservation through legislation. However, by 1977, a small group of members felt that government had gone too far in intruding on the “rights” of gun ownership, and they quickly gained influence in the organization. Through concerted efforts, this group transformed the group’s stated goals of improving marksmanship and responsible gun ownership into a lobbying effort that would actively thwart any legislation that might impose any restrictions on gun owners.

Today’s NRA Membership
The NRA now boasts about 3 million members. Yet this is only a small percentage of the people who own guns in America, which is estimated to be about 70 million. The group purports to speak on behalf of gun owners across the country in all its media pronouncements. However, in the wake of the Newtown, Massachusetts school shooting in which 20 children were killed, the group finds itself working against the tide of 90 percent of its members who are in support of universal background checks for all gun sales, as well as the general public who also supports these measures. Some speculate that the prevalence of gun manufacturers on the organization’s board has much to do with its promotion of unbridled gun ownership.

Where The NRA Money Goes
Membership money accounts for about $100 million dollars, according to 2010 disclosure reports. This money goes to gun education programs, child gun safety programs, the publication of the group’s magazine and a variety of “member outreach” programs. In addition, the NRA collects donations under the 501(c)-2 protection as a “social welfare” organization. They are not required by law to disclose these donors.

The money for the Institute for Legislative Action lobbying arm of the organization is entirely separate from membership funds. However, the fund raising effort for the ILA is almost continuous and raises millions of dollars each year for the group’s political efforts in both large and small donations. This money goes heavily to working for pro-gun political candidates and against gun-control candidates during virtually every election. Whether the NRA will continue to focus on purported threats to gun rights or evolve into an organization that re-focuses its attention on public safety is unclear at present. However, it is certain that private gun ownership will continue in the United States regardless of the negative consequences.

If you are interested in protecting yourself with or without a gun, check out A Gun is not Enough – lots of great information on protecting yourself and your family.

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