National Rifle Association

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National Rifle Association

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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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