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The first century of the NRA's history (from it's incorporation in 1871 to the "Cincinnati Revolt" of 1977) was directed toward promoting shooting sports -- first marksmanship and then (following WW II) hunting. The organization maintained close ties with those governments which could support it and, in fact, relied on feeding at the public trough for its survival -- in both direct financial support and legislated favoritism that drove off all competition.

During the post WW II period, as an outgrowth of the marksmanship programs and it's efforts to promote hunting as a safe sport (and, to a lesser extent, it's control over the distribution of military surplus arms), The NRA developed close relations with the nations law enforcement officers and agencies -- a relationship that was all but destroyed in the 1980's.

Because of it's early entry and total control over marksmanship competition, it is still this nation's governing body for internationally recognized shooting competitions.


1871 Formed by William Conant Church and General George Wingate to promote marksmanship in the guard, convinced NY State legislature to give it $25,000 for rifle range at Creedmore, Long Island
1874 NRA sponsored team beats international champion, Irish Rifle Association, and sparks interest in non-military shooting. Independent clubs sprout up across nation, complain that NRA enjoys financial support from state and manufacturers
1879 Grand Army of the Republic takes over own marksmanship training.
1880 NY State withdraws financial support for shooting competitions. Without access to public funding, and with declining public interest in shooting, NRA collapses.
1901 Boer War sparks renewed interest in shooting; NRA reborn.
1903 NRA convinces Congress to establish National Board for Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP) to build ranges for civilian use and to give NRA one third of seats on NBPRP Board of Directors.
1905 NBPRP convinces Congress to authorize sale of surplus military weapons through NBPRP. NBPRP specifies sales of weapons only through NRA-sponsored clubs.
1907 NRA moves headquarters from New York City to Washington, DC, to be closer to military brass, with whom it has become closely aligned.
1910 Military begins giving away surplus weapons and ammunition to NRA-sponsored clubs.
1911 Eastern states start consider gun control laws in reaction to surge in criminal use of weapons. NRA opposes the laws. NY State passes the Sullivan Law, requiring a permit to purchase a handgun.
1912 Congress begins funding annual NRA shooting matches.
1913 Congress authorizes use of regular Army troops to help out at competitions.
1924 Congress restricts distribution of military surplus weapons, establishing NRA as sole distributor. By start of WW II, NRA has distributed 200,000 government supplied weapons. (NRA officials complain about "cheap-skates" who join NRA to get inexpensive weapons and then loose interest in NRA.)
1934 NRA opposes passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934 (regulating sale of automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns), calls for massive letter-writing campaign to elected officials by NRA members. NFA '34 passes over NRA opposition.
1938 NRA supports Federal Firearms Act of 1938, regulating interstate sales and barring sales of any firearms to known felons. FFA '38 is supported by NRA.
1945 Returning GI's, with familiarity using firearms, show little interest in target shooting but greater interest in hunting. NRA starts programs to serve hunters, both for membership reasons and because returning GI's bringing bad reputation to shooting sports. NRA develops education and training programs for these "outdoorsmen". NRA gradually shifts away from alignment with military and toward the sports shooting sector.
1958 NRA moves to new headquarters, large sign on facade spells out primary objectives:
    Firearms Safety Education
    Marksmanship Training
    Shooting for Recreation
1963 President John Kennedy assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, using rifle purchased by mail order from ad in NRA magazine.
1968 General Franklin Orth, Executive Vice President of NRA, testifies before Congress in favor of the Gun Control Act (GCA'68) that "[NRA does] not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States," /2/ (a ban on the mail-order sale of firearms). His statement of NRA support generates heated opposition from the (presumably insane) portion of the NRA membership, creating split between "sportsmen" and "hardliners."
1975 NRA lobbying authority given to quasi-independent Institute for Legislative Action, run by hardliner Harlan Carter, who informs Congress that allowing "convicted felons, the mentally deranged and narcotics addicts" to own guns rather than place restrictions on their purchase is "a price we pay for freedom." /3/
1976 Sen. Edward Kennedy begins campaign to end federal funding through NBPRP successor, the army's "Division of Civilian Marksmanship) for the NRA's marksmanship program ($3 million per year plus use of 5,000 army troops and access to Camp Perry, in Ohio). The sportsmen's faction (old guard) of the NRA moves to buy 37,000 acres in New Mexico for a new national headquarters and outdoor complex (including camping and survival skills, conservation education and environmental awareness.
1977 At the annual convention in Cincinnati, the hardliners stage a bloodless putsch, ousting the old guard and installing Harlan Carter in the most powerful position (Executive Vice President) and installing Neil Knox as head of the ILA. Carter's victory speech: "Beginning in this place and at this hour, this period in NRA history is finished." /4/ The NRA had been taken over by "some people who were obsessed with the Second Amendment thing." /5/


  1. Except as noted, this time line is drawn from Osha Gray Davidson, Under Fire, The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control - Expanded Edition, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA, 1998,  Back^
  2. Davidson, pg 30 Back^
  3. John M. Crewdson, "Hard-Line Opponent Of Gun Laws Wins New Term At Helm Of Rifle Association", New York Times, May 4, 1981, Section B; Page 11  Back^
  4. Davidson, pg 36 Back^
  5. William Hermann,"U.S. Champions in Long-Range Target Events" The Arizona RepublicFebruary 6, 2000, quoting Middleton Thompkins, father of what is, arguably, the nations foremost target shooting family.  Back^
The New NRA Next


©Copyright, 2000, Mike Rosenberg