National Rifle Association
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National Rifle Association
National Rifle Association of America
National Rifle Association official logo.svg
Founded November 16, 1871; 146 years ago (1871-11-16)[1]
Founder William Conant Church
George Wood Wingate
Type 501(c)(4)[2]
53-0116130
Focus Gun politics
Gun rights
Location
Area served
United States
Services Membership organization
Magazine publisher
Education/certification
Method Lobbying
Publications
Outreach programs
Members
6 million (self-reported, as of 2018)[3]
Key people
Oliver North (President)
Wayne LaPierre (Executive Vice President)
Chris W. Cox (chief lobbyist)
Dana Loesch (national spokesperson)
Subsidiaries NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund
NRA Foundation
NRA Special Contribution Fund
NRA Freedom Action Foundation
NRA Institute for Legislative Action
NRA Political Victory Fund
Revenue
$433.9 million (2016)[4]
Expenses $475.9 million (2016)[4]
Website NRA.org
Seal of the National Rifle Association

The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) is an American nonprofit organization that advocates for gun rights.[5][6][7] Founded in 1871, the group has informed its members about firearm-related legislation since 1934, and it has directly lobbied for and against firearms legislation since 1975.[8]

Founded to advance rifle marksmanship, the modern NRA continues to teach firearm safety and competency. The organization also publishes several magazines and sponsors competitive marksmanship events.[8] According to the NRA, membership surpassed 5 million in May 2013.[5]

Observers and lawmakers see the NRA as one of the top three most influential lobbying groups in Washington, DC[9][10] The NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) is its lobbying arm, which manages its political action committee (PAC), the Political Victory Fund (PVF). Over its history the organization has influenced legislation, participated in or initiated lawsuits, and endorsed or opposed various candidates at local, state and federal levels.

The NRA has been criticized by gun control and gun rights advocacy groups, political commentators, and politicians.[11][12] The organization has been the focus of intense criticism in the aftermath of high profile shootings, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

History

Early history

William Conant Church, one of the NRA's founders

A few months after the Civil War started in 1861, a national rifle association was proposed by Americans in England. In a letter that was sent to President Lincoln and appeared in the New York Times, R.G. Moulton and R.B. Perry recommended forming an organization similar to the British National Rifle Association, which had formed a year and a half earlier. They suggested making a shooting range, perhaps on the base on Staten Island, and were offering Whitworth rifles for prizes for the first shooting competition with those rifles. They suggested a provisional committee to start the Association which would include: President Lincoln, Secretary of War, officers, and other prominent New Yorkers.[13][14][15]

The National Rifle Association was first chartered in the State of New York on November 16, 1871[1][8] by Army and Navy Journal editor William Conant Church and Captain George Wood Wingate. On November 25, 1871, the group voted to elect its first corporate officers. Union Army Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, who had worked as a Rhode Island gunsmith, was elected president.[16] Colonel W.C. Church was elected vice president; Captain Wingate was elected secretary; Fred M. Peck was elected recording secretary; and Major General John B. Woodward was elected treasurer.[16] When Burnside resigned on August 1, 1872,[17] Church succeeded him as president.[18]

Union Army records for the Civil War indicate that its troops fired about 1,000 rifle shots for each Confederate hit, causing General Burnside to lament his recruits: "Out of ten soldiers who are perfect in drill and the manual of arms, only one knows the purpose of the sights on his gun or can hit the broad side of a barn."[19][20][21] The generals attributed this to the use of volley tactics, devised for earlier, less accurate smoothbore muskets.[22][23]

Ambrose Burnside, Union Army general, Governor of Rhode Island, and first president of the NRA

Recognizing a need for better training, Wingate sent emissaries to Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany to observe militia and armies' marksmanship training programs.[24] With plans provided by Wingate, the New York Legislature funded the construction of a modern range at Creedmoor, Long Island, for long-range shooting competitions. The range officially opened on June 21, 1873.[25] The Central Railroad of Long Island established a railway station nearby, with trains running from Hunter's Point, with connecting boat service to 34th Street and the East River, allowing access from New York City.[26] Wingate then wrote a marksmanship manual.[21]

After beating England and Scotland to win the Elcho Shield in 1873 at Wimbledon, then a village outside London, the Irish Rifle Team issued a challenge through the New York Herald to riflemen of the United States to raise a team for a long-range match to determine an Anglo-American championship. The NRA organized a team through a subsidiary amateur rifle club. Remington Arms and Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company produced breech-loading weapons for the team. Although muzzle-loading rifles had long been considered more accurate, eight American riflemen won the match firing breech-loading rifles. Publicity of the event generated by the New York Herald helped to establish breech-loading firearms as suitable for military marksmanship training, and promoted the NRA to national prominence.[21]

Rifle clubs

Ulysses S. Grant served as President of the NRA from 1883 (ten years after he left office) to 1884

The NRA organized rifle clubs in other states, and many state National Guard organizations sought NRA advice to improve members' marksmanship. Wingate's markmanship manual evolved into the United States Army marksmanship instruction program.[21] Former President Ulysses S. Grant served as the NRA's eighth president and General Philip H. Sheridan as its ninth.[27] The US Congress created the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice in 1901 to include representatives from the NRA, National Guard, and United States military services. A program of annual rifle and pistol competitions was authorized, and included a national match open to military and civilian shooters. In 1903, Congress authorized the Civilian Marksmanship Program, which was designed to train civilians who might later be called to serve in the US military.[28] In 1907, NRA headquarters moved to Washington, DC to facilitate the organization's advocacy efforts.[21]Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal began the manufacture of M1903 Springfield rifles for civilian members of the NRA in 1910.[29] The Director of Civilian Marksmanship began manufacture of M1911 pistols for NRA members in August 1912.[30] Until 1927, the United States Department of War provided free ammunition and targets to civilian rifle clubs with a minimum membership of ten United States citizens at least 16 years of age.[31]

1934-present

The NRA formed its Legislative Affairs Division to update members with facts and analysis of upcoming bills,[32] after the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 became the first federal gun-control law passed in the US.[33]Karl Frederick, NRA President in 1934, during congressional NFA hearings testified "I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one. ... I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses."[34] The NRA supported the NFA along with the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), which together created a system to federally license gun dealers and established restrictions on particular categories and classes of firearms.[35]

Until the middle 1970s, the NRA mainly focused on sportsmen, hunters and target shooters, and downplayed gun control issues. However, passage of the GCA galvanized a growing number of NRA gun rights activists, including Harlon Carter. In 1975, it began to focus more on politics and established its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), with Carter as director. The next year, its political action committee (PAC), the Political Victory Fund, was created in time for the 1976 elections.[36]:158 The 1977 annual convention was a defining moment for the organization and came to be known as "The Cincinnati Revolution".[37] Leadership planned to relocate NRA headquarters to Colorado and to build a $30 million recreational facility in New Mexico, but activists within the organization whose central concern was Second Amendment rights defeated the incumbents and elected Carter as executive director and Neal Knox as head of the NRA-ILA.[38][39]

Political expansion

After 1977, the organization expanded its membership by focusing heavily on political issues and forming coalitions with conservative politicians. Most of these are Republicans.[40] With a goal to weaken the GCA, Knox's ILA successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986 and worked to reduce the powers of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). In 1982, Knox was ousted as director of the ILA, but began mobilizing outside the NRA framework and continued to promote opposition to gun control laws.[41]

At the 1991 national convention, Knox's supporters were elected to the board and named staff lobbyist Wayne LaPierre as the executive vice president. The NRA focused its attention on the gun control policies of the Clinton Administration.[42] Knox again lost power in 1997, as he lost reelection to a coalition of moderate leaders who supported movie star Charlton Heston, despite Heston's past support of gun control legislation.[43] In 1994, the NRA unsuccessfully opposed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), but successfully lobbied for the ban's 2004 expiration.[44] Heston was elected president in 1998 and became a highly visible spokesman for the organization. In an effort to improve the NRA's image, Heston presented himself as the voice of reason in contrast to Knox.[45]:262-68

Lobbying and political activity

Chris W. Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist and political strategist, in March 2016

When the National Rifle Association was officially incorporated on November 16, 1871,[1] its primary goal was to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis". The NRA's website says the organization is "America's longest-standing civil rights organization".[46]

On February 7, 1872, the NRA created a committee to lobby for legislation in the interest of the organization.[47] Its first lobbying effort was to petition the New York State legislature for $25,000 to purchase land to set up a range.[48] Within three months, the legislation had passed and had been signed into law by Governor John T. Hoffman.[49]

In 1934, the National Rifle Association created a Legislative Affairs Division to work officially on Second Amendment issues.[]

The Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), the lobbying branch of the NRA, was established in 1975. According to political scientists John M. Bruce and Clyde Wilcox, the NRA shifted its focus in the late 1970s to incorporate political advocacy, and started seeing its members as political resources rather than just as recipients of goods and services. Despite the impact on the volatility of membership, the politicization of the NRA has been consistent and its PAC, the Political Victory Fund established in 1976, ranked as "one of the biggest spenders in congressional elections" as of 1998.[50]

A 1999 Fortune magazine survey said that lawmakers and their staffers considered the NRA the most powerful lobbying organization three years in a row.[9]Chris W. Cox is the NRA's chief lobbyist and principal political strategist, a position he has held since 2002. In 2012, 88% of Republicans and 11% of Democrats in Congress had received an NRA PAC contribution at some point in their career. Of the members of the Congress that convened in 2013, 51% received funding from the NRA PAC within their political careers, and 47% received NRA money in their most recent race. According to Lee Drutman, political scientist and senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, "It is important to note that these contributions are probably a better measure of allegiance than of influence."[51]

Internationally, the NRA opposes the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).[52] It has opposed Canadian gun registry,[53] supported Brazilian gun rights,[54][55] and criticized Australian gun laws.[56]

In 2016 the NRA raised a record $366 million and spent $412 million for political activities. The NRA also maintains a PAC which is excluded from these figures.[57] The organization donated to congressional races for both Republicans (223) and Democrats (9) to candidates for Congress.[58]

Elections

Wayne LaPierre, executive Vice President of the NRA, in 2017

The NRA Political Victory Fund (PVF) PAC was established in 1976 to challenge gun-control candidates and to support gun-rights candidates.[59] An NRA "A+" candidate is one who has "not only an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues, but who has also made a vigorous effort to promote and defend the Second Amendment", whereas an NRA "F" candidate is a "true enemy of gun owners' rights".[60]

The NRA endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in 1980, backing Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter.[61][62] The NRA has also made endorsements even when it viewed both candidates positively. For example, in the 2006 Senate Elections the NRA endorsed Rick Santorum over Bob Casey, Jr.,[63] even though they both had an "A" rating.

The NRA spent $40 million on US elections in 2008,[64] including $10 million in opposition to the election of Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign.[65]

The NRA spent over $360,000 in the Colorado recall election of 2013, which resulted in the ouster of state senators John Morse and Angela Giron.[66]The Huffington Post called the recall "a stunning victory for the National Rifle Association and gun rights activists."[66] Morse and Giron helped to pass expanded background checks and ammunition magazine capacity limits after the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, and Sandy Hook, Connecticut, shootings.[67]

On May 20, 2016, the NRA endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election.[68] The timing of the endorsement, before Trump became the official Republican nominee, was unusual, as the NRA typically endorses Republican nominees towards the end of the general election. The NRA said its early endorsement was due to the strong gun control stance of Hillary Clinton[69] In the 2016 United States presidential election the NRA reported spending more than $30 million in support of Donald Trump, more than any other independent group in that election, and three times what it spent in the 2012 presidential election.[70]

McClatchyDC reported on January 18, 2018 that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Central Bank of Russia's deputy governor, Aleksandr Torshin, illegally funneled money through the NRA to benefit Trump's campaign.[71] On May 16, 2018, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report[72] stating it had obtained "a number of documents that suggest the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association as a means of accessing and assisting Mr. Trump and his campaign" through Torshin and his assistant Maria Butina, and that "The Kremlin may also have used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump's campaign."[73] Torshin, a lifetime NRA member who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been implicated in money laundering by Spanish authorities who have characterized him as a "godfather" in Taganskaya, a major Russian criminal organization.[71][74]

The ATF and Senate confirmations

The NRA has for decades sought to limit the ability of the ATF to regulate firearms by blocking nominees and lobbying against reforms that would ease the ability of the ATF to track gun crimes.[75] The NRA, for instance, opposed ATF reforms to trace guns to owners electronically; the ATF currently has to do so through paper records.[75] In 2006, the NRA lobbied US Representative F. James Sensenbrenner to add a provision to the Patriot Act reauthorization that requires Senate confirmation of ATF director nominees.[76] For seven years after that, the NRA lobbied against and "effectively blocked" every presidential nominee.[76][77][78] First was President George W. Bush's choice, Michael Sullivan, whose confirmation was held up in 2008 by three Republican Senators who said the ATF was hostile to gun dealers. One of the Senators was Larry Craig, who was an NRA board member during his years in the Senate.[79] Confirmation of President Obama's first nominee, Andrew Traver, stalled in 2011 after the NRA expressed strong opposition.[76][80][75] Some Senators resisted confirming another Obama nominee, B. Todd Jones, because of the NRA's opposition,[78] until 2013, when the NRA said it was neutral on Jones' nomination and that it would not include the confirmation vote in its grading system.[76] Dan Freedman, national editor for Hearst Newspapers' Washington DC bureau, stated that it, "clears the way for senators from pro-gun states - Democrats as well as at least some Republicans - to vote for Jones without fear of political repercussions".[81]

In 2014, Obama weighed the idea of delaying a vote on his nominee for Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, when Republicans and some conservative Democrats criticized Murthy, after the NRA opposed him.[82] In February, the NRA wrote to Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to say that it "strongly opposes" Murthy's confirmation, and told The Washington Times' Emily Miller that it would score the vote in its PAC grading system. "The NRA decision", wrote Miller, "will undoubtedly make vulnerable Democrats up for reelection in the midterms reconsider voting party line on this nominee."[83]The Wall Street Journal stated on March 15, "Crossing the NRA to support Dr. Murthy could be a liability for some of the Democrats running for re-election this year in conservative-leaning states".[84]

The NRA also opposed the appointments of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan as Supreme Court justices.[85]

Legislation

National Rifle Association Position on Federal US Legislation
Bill/Law Year Supported Opposed
National Firearms Act 1934 NoN
Federal Firearms Act 1938 NoN
Gun Control Act 1968 NoN NoN
Federal Assault Weapons Ban 1994 NoN
Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act 2005 NoN
Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act 2006 NoN
Assault Weapons Ban 2013 NoN

The NRA supported the 1934 National Firearms Act,[86] which regulated what were considered at the time "gangster weapons" such as machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and sound suppressors.[87] However, the organization's position on suppressors has since changed.[88]

The NRA supported the 1938 Federal Firearms Act (FFA) which established the Federal Firearms License (FFL) program. The FFA required all manufacturers and dealers of firearms who ship or receive firearms or ammunition in interstate or foreign commerce to have a license, and forbade them from transferring any firearm or most ammunition to any person interstate unless certain conditions were met.[89]

The NRA supported and opposed parts of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which broadly regulated the firearms industry and firearms owners, primarily focusing on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers. The law was supported by America's oldest manufacturers (Colt, S&W, etc.) in an effort to forestall even greater restrictions which were feared in response to recent domestic violence. The NRA supported elements of the law, such as those forbidding the sale of firearms to convicted criminals and the mentally ill.[90][91]

The NRA influenced the writing of the Firearm Owners Protection Act and worked for its passage.[92]

In 2004, the NRA opposed renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. The ban expired on September 13, 2004.[93]

In 2005 President George W. Bush signed into law the NRA-backed Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act which prevent firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products.[94]

Litigation

In November 2005, the NRA and other gun advocates filed a lawsuit challenging San Francisco Proposition H, which banned the ownership and sales of firearms. The NRA argued that the proposition overstepped local government authority and intruded into an area regulated by the state. The San Francisco County Superior Court agreed with the NRA position.[95] The city appealed the court's ruling, but lost a 2008 appeal.[96] In October 2008, San Francisco was forced to pay a $380,000 settlement to the National Rifle Association and other plaintiffs to cover the costs of litigating Proposition H.[97]

In April 2006, New Orleans, Louisiana, police began returning to citizens guns that had been confiscated after Hurricane Katrina. The NRA, Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), and other groups agreed to drop a lawsuit against the city in exchange for the return.[98]

In 2009 the NRA again filed suit (Guy Montag Doe v. San Francisco Housing Authority) in the city of San Francisco challenging the city's ban of guns in public housing. On January 14, 2009, the San Francisco Housing Authority reached a settlement with the NRA, which allows residents to possess legal firearms within a SFHA apartment building.[99]

In 2010, the NRA sued the city of Chicago, Illinois (McDonald v. Chicago) and the Supreme Court ruled that like other substantive rights, the right to bear arms is incorporated via the Fourteenth Amendment to the Bill of Rights, and therefore applies to the states.[100][101]

In March 2013, the NRA joined a federal lawsuit with other gun rights groups challenging New York's gun control law (the NY SAFE Act), arguing that Governor Andrew Cuomo "usurped the legislative and democratic process" in passing the law, which included restrictions on magazine capacity and expanding the state's assault weapons ban.[102]

In November 2013, voters in Sunnyvale, California, passed an ordinance banning certain ammunition magazines along with three other firearm-related restrictions. The ordinance was passed by 66 percent in favor.[103] The requires city residents to "dispose, donate, or sell" any magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds within a proscribed period of time once the measure takes effect.[104] The following month, the NRA joined local residents in suing the city on second amendment grounds.[103] A federal judge dismissed the suit three months later, upholding the Sunnyvale's ordinance.[105][106]

The city of San Francisco then passed similar ordinances a short time later. The San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association (SFVPOA), represented by NRA attorneys, filed a lawsuit challenging San Francisco's ban on the possession of high-capacity magazines, seeking an injunction.[107] A federal judge denied the injunction in February 2014.[105][108]

In 2014 the NRA lobbied for a bill in Pennsylvania which grants it and other advocacy groups legal standing to sue municipalities to overturn local firearm regulations passed in violation of a state law preempting such regulations, and which also allows the court to force cities to pay their legal fees. As soon as it became law, the NRA sued three cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Lancaster. In Philadelphia, seven regulations the NRA sued to overturn included a ban on gun possession by those found to be a risk for harming themselves or others, and a requirement to report stolen guns to the police within twenty-four hours after discovery of the loss or theft.[109] In Lancaster, a city of fewer than 60,000, mayor Rick Gray, who has chaired the pro-gun control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, was also named in the suit. In that city, the NRA challenged an ordinance requiring gun owners to tell police when a firearm is lost or stolen within 72 hours or face jail time.[110] The basis for the lawsuits is "a 1974 state law that bars municipalities against passing restrictions that are pre-empted by state gun laws". At least 20 Pennsylvania municipalities have rescinded regulations in response to threatened litigation.[111][112]

Programs

NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia that houses the museum

The National Rifle Association owns the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia, featuring exhibits on the evolution and history of firearms in America.[113] In August 2013, the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum opened at an expansive Bass Pro Shops retail store in Springfield, Missouri. It displays almost 1,000 firearms, including historically significant firearms from the NRA and other collections.[114] The NRA publishes a number of periodicals including American Rifleman and others.[115]

The NRA sponsors a range of programs about firearm safety for children and adults, including a program for school-age children, the NRA's "Eddie Eagle". The organization issues credentials and trains firearm instructors.[116][117]

In 1994, following disagreements between the NRA and athletes over control of the program of Olympic shooting sports, the US Olympic Committee recommended USA Shooting replace the NRA as the national governing body for Olympic shooting. The NRA dropped out just before the decision was announced, citing a lack of appreciation for their efforts.[118]

The NRA hosts the National Rifle and Pistol Matches at Camp Perry, events which are considered[by whom?] to be the "world series of competitive shooting"[119] The National Rifle Association maintains ties with other organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and 4-H.[120] The NRA has worked with the American Civil Liberties Union in opposing gun registration.[121][122]

Annual meeting

The NRA meets every year. The 2018 meeting was held from May 3 to 6 in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Dallas, Texas. Over 800 exhibitors and 80,000 people attended the event, making it the largest in NRA history. A May 4 event featured Donald Trump and Mike Pence who addressed attendees.[123] The Secret Service has banned weapons including guns and knives from that event.[124]

Organizational structure and finances

Leadership

Executive staff and spokespersons

Since 1991, Wayne LaPierre has been the organization's executive vice president, and functions as the chief executive officer.[125] Previous notable holders of that office include: Milton Reckord, Floyd Lavinius Parks, Franklin Orth, Maxwell Rich, Harlon Carter, J. Warren Cassidy, and Gary Anderson.

Chris W. Cox is the executive director of the NRA's lobbying branch, the Institute for Legislative Action. Kyle Weaver is executive director of general operations.[126] Kayne B. Robinson is executive director of the General Operations Division and chairman of the Whittington Center.[127]

Spokesperson Dana Loesch

In 2017, political commentator Dana Loesch was appointed as the NRA's national spokesperson, with the formal title of "special assistant to executive vice president for public communication."[128] Loesch hosts The DL on NRA TV and has featured prominently in other NRA-produced videos.

Actor Chuck Norris serves as a celebrity spokesperson for the association.[129]Colion Noir hosts a video program on the NRA's online video channel.[130]

Board of directors

The NRA is governed by a board of 76 elected directors. Of these, 75 serve three-year terms and one is elected to serve as a cross-over director who "holds office from the adjournment of the Annual Meeting of Members at which [this person] was elected until the adjournment of the next Annual Meeting of Members, or until a successor is elected and qualified." The directors choose a president, one or more vice presidents, an executive vice president (the leading spokesperson for the organization), a secretary, and treasurer from among their fellows. Two other officers are also elected by the board: the executive director of the NRA General Operations and the executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA).[131] In 2015, 71 members were white and 65 were male. More came from Texas than any other state.[132] Only 7% of eligible members vote.[133]

Most nominations are vetted by a nine-member Nominating Committee.[134] The committee is appointed, though the appointment process is not public.[135] One member is George Kollitides of the Freedom Group.[134] The nomination committee has been called "kingmakers" by MSNBC and Jeff Knox says "the process is front-loaded to give incumbents and Nominating Committee candidates a significant advantage".[133]

Membership

According to Wayne La Pierre NRA membership exceeded 5 million as of May 2013, one-tenth of whom had joined in the prior six months.[5]Mother Jones has questioned the membership numbers published by the NRA. They say that in 2008, for example, the organization claimed both 3 million and 4.3 million members. Journalist Osha Gray Davidson suggested in 2000 that many deceased "life members" are kept on the books in order to inflate the membership rolls.[136] A 2017 Pew Research Center Study found that more than 14 million Americans consider themselves NRA members, above the real membership number of 5 million. This may be attributed to the fact that the NRA has millions more of Americans who support them and will tell pollsters they are members, even when they are not. In other cases, it could be that their membership has lapsed and for others, they might consider a family member's membership part of their own.[137][138]

Notable members

Nine US Presidents have been NRA members. In addition to Grant, they are: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush (who resigned in 1995), and Donald Trump.[139] Three US Vice Presidents, two Chief Justices of the US Supreme Court, and several US Congressmen, as well as legislators and officials of state governments are members.[140][141]

Current or past members also include journalist Hunter S. Thompson,[142] Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh,[143] documentarian Michael Moore (to try to put an end to the organization),[144] actor Rick Schroder,[145] and singer James Hetfield.[146]

Interconnected organizations

The National Rifle Association is composed of several financially interconnected organizations under common leadership,[147] including the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) which manages the NRA's political action committee and the NRA Civil Defense Fund which does pro bono legal work for people with cases involving Second Amendment rights.[147] The NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund was established in 1978.[148] Harlon Carter and Neal Knox were responsible for its founding.[149]

In 1994, the Fund spent over $500,000 on legal fees to support legal cases involving guns and gun control measures. It donated $20,000 in 1996 for the defense of New York City resident Bernhard Goetz when he was sued by a man he shot and left paralyzed.[150] It paid the legal bills in the case of Brian Aitken, a New Jersey resident sentenced to seven years in state prison for transporting guns without a carry permit.[151] On December 20, 2010, Governor Chris Christie granted Aitken clemency and ordered Aitken's immediate release from prison.[152]

NRA Foundation

The NRA Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that raises and donates money to outdoors groups and others such as ROTC programs, 4-H and Boy Scouts. In 2010, the NRA Foundation distributed $21.2 million in grants for gun-related training and education programs: $12.6 million to the NRA itself, and the rest to community programs for hunters, competitive shooters, gun collectors, and law enforcement, and to women and youth groups.[153] The foundation has no staff and pays no salaries.[153]

Friends of NRA is a program that raises money for the NRA Foundation. Since its inception in 1992, Friends of NRA has held over 17,600 events, reached over 3.2 million attendees and raised over $600 million for The NRA Foundation.[154]

Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF)

By 1976, as the NRA became more politically-oriented, the Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF), a PAC, was established as a subsidiary to the NRA, to support NRA-friendly politicians.[59]Chris W. Cox, who is the NRA's chief lobbyist and principal political strategist, is also the NRA-PVF chairman. Through the NRA-PVF, the NRA began to rate political candidates on their positions on gun rights. An NRA "A+" candidate is one who has "not only an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues, but who has also made a vigorous effort to promote and defend the Second Amendment", whereas an NRA "F" candidate is deemed a "true enemy of gun owners' rights".[60]

In the 2008 elections, the PVF spent millions on "direct campaign donations" and "grassroots operation".[155] In 2012, NRA-PVF income was $14.4 million and expenses were $16.1 million.[156] By 2014, the NRA-PVF income rose to 21.9 million with expenses of 20.7 million.[157]

Finances

Name Year Income in Millions Expenses in Millions
National Rifle Association (NRA) 2011[158] 218.9 231.0
NRA Institute for Legislative Action n/a n/a n/a
NRA Civil Defense Fund 2012[159] 1.6 1.0
NRA Civil Defense Fund 2013[160] 1.3 0.9
NRA Foundation 2012[161] 43.0 29.1
NRA Foundation 2013[162] 41.3 31.4
NRA Freedom Action Foundation 2012[163] 2.1 2.3
NRA Freedom Action Foundation 2013[164] 0.5 0.1
NRA Political Victory Fund 2012[156] 14.4 16.1
NRA Political Victory Fund 2014[157] 21.9 20.7
NRA Special Contribution Fund 2012[165] 3.3 3.1
NRA Special Contribution Fund 2013[166] 4.3 3.6

In 2010, the NRA reported revenue of $227.8 million and expenses of $243.5 million,[167] with revenue including roughly $115 million generated from fundraising, sales, advertising and royalties, and most of the rest from membership dues.[168] Less than half of the NRA's income is from membership dues and program fees; the majority is from contributions, grants, royalties, and advertising.[153][168][169]

Corporate donors include a variety of companies such as outdoors supply, sporting goods companies, and firearm manufacturers.[153][168][169][170] From 2005 through 2011, the NRA received at least $14.8 million from more than 50 firearms-related firms.[168] An April 2011 Violence Policy Center presentation said that the NRA had received between $14.7 million and $38.9 million from the firearms industry since 2005.[170] In 2008, Beretta exceeded $2 million in donations to the NRA, and in 2012, Smith & Wesson gave more than $1 million. Sturm, Ruger & Company raised $1.25 million through a program in which it donated $1 to the NRA-ILA for each gun it sold from May 2011 to May 2012. In a similar program, gun buyers and participating stores are invited to "round up" the purchase price to the nearest dollar as a voluntary contribution. According to the NRA's 2010 tax forms, the "round-up" funds have been allocated to both public interest programs and lobbying.[153]

Public opinion and image

A Reuters/Ipsos poll in April 2012 found that 82% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats saw the NRA "in a positive light".[171] In seven of eight Gallup polls between 1993 and 2015, a majority of Americans reported holding a favorable opinion of the NRA. Its highest rating was at 60% favourability in 2005 (with 34% unfavourable), while its lowest rating was at 42% favourability in 1995 (with 51% unfavourable). In October 2015, 58% of Americans held a favorable opinion of the NRA, though there was a wide spread among political affiliations: 77% of conservatives, 56% of moderates and 30% of liberals held this view.[172]

A Washington Post/ABC News poll in January 2013 showed that only 36% of Americans had a favorable opinion of the NRA leadership.[173]

A 2017 poll conducted by the political action committee Americans for Responsible Solutions, which supports gun control, exclusively questioned 661 gun owners. 26% of the respondents stated they were a member of the NRA. The ARS reported that less than 50% of gun owners polled believed the NRA represented their interests, while 67% of them somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement that it had been "overtaken by lobbyists and the interests of gun manufacturers and lost its original purpose and mission." The NRA disputed the poll's veracity in an e-mail sent to Politico, which had published the story.[174]

The NRA calls itself "the oldest continuously operating civil liberties organization" and is "one of the largest and best-funded lobbying organizations" in the United States.[175][176] Its claim that it's one of the oldest civil rights organizations is disputed. While the NRA was founded in 1871, it did not pursue a gun rights agenda until 1934. The National Association for the Deaf (NAD, founded in 1880) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP, founded in 1909) both originated as civil rights organizations according to other sources.[177][178]

Criticism

Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) speaking at an event for Mayors Against Illegal Guns

The National Rifle Association has been criticized by newspaper editorial boards, gun control and gun rights advocacy groups, political commentators, and politicians. Democrats and liberals frequently criticize the organization.[11][12][179] The NRA's oldest organized critics include the gun control advocacy groups the Brady Campaign, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), and the Violence Policy Center (VPC). Twenty-first century groups include Everytown for Gun Safety (formerly Mayors Against Illegal Guns), Moms Demand Action, and Americans for Responsible Solutions.

Political involvement

In 1995, former US President George H. W. Bush resigned his life membership to the organization after receiving a National Rifle Association Institute of Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) fund-raising letter, signed by executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, that referred to ATF agents as "jack-booted government thugs".[180][181] The NRA later apologized for the letter's language.[182]

In December 2008, The New York Times editorial board criticized the NRA's attacks, which it called false and misleading, on Barack Obama's presidential campaign.[183]

After Donald Trump's election, the NRA closely aligned with Trump.[184] At an event in February 2018, Trump said that he was a "big fan of the NRA" but said that "that doesn't mean we have to agree on everything."[185]

A number of observers have argued that the NRA has become a partisan organization, focusing overwhelmingly on supporting the Republican Party. They argue that the NRA does not support Democratic candidates, even when the Democrat holds pro-gun views, and that the organization supports Republican causes even when they are unrelated to gun rights.[186][184][not in citation given]

Gun control

In February 2013, USA Today editors criticized the NRA for flip-flopping on expansion of universal background checks to private and gun show sales, which NRA now opposes.[187]

In March 2014, The Washington Post criticized the NRA's interference in government research on gun violence,[188] and both Post and Los Angeles Times editors criticized its opposition of Vivek Murthy for US Surgeon General.[189]

A survey of NRA members found that the majority support certain gun control policies, such as a universal background check:

For instance, 84% of gun owners and 74% of NRA members (vs. 90% of non-gun owners) supported requiring a universal background-check system for all gun sales; 76% of gun owners and 62% of NRA members (vs. 83% of non-gun owners) supported prohibiting gun ownership for 10 years after a person has been convicted of violating a domestic-violence restraining order; and 71% of gun owners and 70% of NRA members (vs. 78% of non-gun owners) supported requiring a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years in prison for a person convicted of selling a gun to someone who cannot legally have a gun.[190]

Gun manufacturing industry

Critics have charged that the NRA represents the interests of gun manufacturers rather than gun owners.[191][192][193][194] For example, in 2011, Violence Policy Center executive director Josh Sugarmann, said: "Today's NRA is a virtual subsidiary of the gun industry. While the NRA portrays itself as protecting the 'freedom' of individual gun owners, it's actually working to protect the freedom of the gun industry to manufacture and sell virtually any weapon or accessory".[170]

Mass shootings

Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting

Following the high-profile 2012 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the organization began to become the focus of intense criticism, due to its continued refusal to endorse any new restrictions on assault-style gun ownership, or to endorse any other types of new restrictions on gun ownership.[195][169][196] While supporters say the organization advances their rights to buy and own guns according to the constitution's Second Amendment, some critics have described it as a "terrorist organization" for advocating policies that enable and permit the widespread distribution and sale of assault-style weapons, and for its opposition to any other types of restrictions on gun sales or use.[197][198][199]

In December 2012, following the shooting, NRA broke its social media silence and media blackout to announce a press conference.[200] At the event, LaPierre announced an NRA-backed effort to assess the feasibility of placing armed security officers in the nation's 135,000 public and private schools under a "National School Shield Program". He called on Congress "to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary". The announcement came in the same week after President Obama had stated his support for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.[201][202][203]

The NRA has been criticized for their media strategy following mass shootings in the United States. After the Sandy Hook shooting the NRA released an online video which attacked Obama and mentioned Obama's daughters; New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called it "reprehensible" and said that it demeaned the organization.[204] A senior lobbyist for the organization later characterized the video as "ill-advised".[205]

2017 Las Vegas shooting

After the October 2017 shooting at a concert in Las Vegas, which left 58 people dead and 851 injured, the NRA was initially criticized for their silence.[206] After four days they issued a statement opposing additional gun control laws, which they said would not stop further attacks, and calling for a federal law allowing people who have a concealed carry permit in one state to carry concealed weapons in all other states. The organization also suggested additional regulations on so-called bump fire stocks, which allow a semi-automatic weapon to function like a machine gun; the Las Vegas shooter had used such a device.[207]

Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

In February 2018 a school shooting at a high school in Florida left 17 dead, and student survivors organized a movement called Never Again MSD to demand passage of certain gun control measures. Many of the students blamed the NRA, and the politicians who accept money from the organization, for preventing enactment of any gun control proposals after previous high profile shootings.[208][209] An NRA spokesman responded by blaming the shooting on the FBI and the media.[210] The NRA also issued a statement that the incident was proof that more guns were immediately required in schools in the hands of a bolstered force of armed security personnel in order to "harden" them against any further similar assaults.[211] A Florida law passed in the wake of the shooting, which includes a provision to ban the sale of firearms to people under 21, was immediately challenged in federal court by the NRA on the grounds that it is "violating the constitutional rights of 18- to 21-year-olds."[212][213]

Boycott

The NRA offers corporate discounts to its members at various businesses through its corporate affiliate programs. For several years, and increasingly in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, "affiliate companies" have been targeted in social media as part of a boycott effort[214] to terminate their business relationships with the NRA.[215] As a result of this boycott movement, several major corporations such as Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Hertz, Symantec, and MetLife have disaffiliated from the NRA, while others, such as FedEx have refused to disaffiliate.[216][217][218]

Media campaigns

In 2017, Zack Beauchamp of Vox and Mark Sumner of Daily Kos criticized a video advertisement from the NRA. In the video, Dana Loesch runs through a list of wrongs committed by an unspecified "they":

They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that the president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars, and singers, and comedy shows, and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance. All to make them march. Make them protest. Make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law abiding. Until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness. And when that happens, they'll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this. The only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.

Sumner alleged the NRA was trying to boost gun sales by "convincing half of America to declare war on the other half." Beauchamp wrote, "It's a paranoid vision of American life that encourages the NRA's fans to see liberals not as political opponents, but as monsters."[219]

Pro-gun rights criticism

Pro-gun rights critics include Gun Owners of America (GOA), founded in the 1970s because some gun rights advocates believed the NRA was too flexible on gun issues.[220]:110-11Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO) has also disagreed with NRA for what it perceives as a willingness to compromise on gun control.[221] The National Association for Gun Rights criticizes the NRA as not being conservative enough or not sufficiently protective of gun rights.[222][223] In June 2014, an open carry group in Texas threatened to withdraw its support of the NRA if it did not retract its statements critical of the practice. The NRA-ILA's Chris Cox said the statements were a staffer's personal opinion and a mistake.[224]

Lack of advocacy for black gun owners

The NRA has been criticized for insufficient defense of African-American gun rights and providing muted and delayed responses in gun rights cases involving black gun owners.[225][226][227][228][229][230][231] Others argue that the NRA's inaction in prominent gun rights cases involving black gun owners is a consequence of their reluctance to criticize law enforcement.[232][229]

In a well-publicized 2017 case, Philando Castile, an African-American and legal gun owner, was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop while reaching for his wallet.[227][233] Castile had a valid firearm permit and informed the police officer of his gun prior to the shooting.[227][234] According to The Washington Post, the NRA had typically "been quick to defend other gun owners who made national news", but stayed silent on the Castile shooting.[227] Other gun rights advocates as well as some NRA members voiced similar criticisms.[227]

Adam Winkler, professor of constitutional law at the UCLA School of Law, has argued that there is historical precedence to the NRA's lack of advocacy for black gun owners, noting that the NRA promoted gun control legislation in the 1920s, 1930s and 1960s with the intent to reduce gun ownership by racial minorities.[235][236][237]

List of past and present leaders

Presidents

Presidents of the NRA are elected by the board of directors.

Directors

Notable directors, past and present, include:[132]

See also

References

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  7. ^ More gun rights sources:
    • Carter, Greg Lee (2006). Gun Control in the United States: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 285. ISBN 978-1851097609. Almost all of [the groups listed] are readily classifiable as either advocating a 'gun control' or a 'gun rights' position. 
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