National Rifle Association

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National Rifle Association
Nra logo.jpg
Legal status 501(c)(4)
Founded 1871, by Colonel William C. Church and General George Wingate
Headquarters 11250 Waples Mill Road
Fairfax , Virginia
United States
The initials NRA can also refer to the National Recovery Administration, a depression-era government agency.

The National Rifle Association of America, or NRA, is a non-partisan, non-profit American interest group created to “preserve and defend” the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. Founded in 1871 by Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate, both Union veterans of the American Civil War, the group touts itself as America’s oldest civil rights organization.

Often referred to as one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, the NRA boasts nearly four million members, according to the organization’s website.[1] The NRA trains approximately 750,000 gun owners each year, and promotes firearm safety with its training courses and educational programs.



The National Rifle Association was founded shortly after the end of the American Civil War (1861-1865), but several decades after Samuel Colt opened the first private gun manufacturing facility in 1836. Colt’s company allowed guns to be produced on a large scale, leading to the mainstream use of firearms as practical and recreational devices.

Civil War Gen. Ambrose Burnside, also a U.S. Senator and the former governor of Rhode Island, was the NRA's first president. Burnside was no stranger to small arms, as both the Union and the Confederacy ramped up the production of weapons throughout the early 1860s. The Civil War launched America into a new era in terms of weapons, and the National Rifle Association stepped up to become a leader in the emerging industry [2].

Early Years

By the end of the nineteenth century, factories were producing weapons at affordable prices, creating widespread individual ownership of guns. The NRA trained many of these new gun owners, often men in the army, with its rifle ranges. At this point in time, the organization was not concerned with public policy; it did very little lobbying, and was more concerned with developing gun safety classes.

The group’s first rifle range, located on Long Island, was paid for by the New York stage legislature. In 1903 Congress set up the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice, now known as the Civilian Marksmanship Program. The NRA helped to run this board, and Congress eventually gave surplus guns to NRA-sponsored rifle clubs, allowing the organization to expand westward.

Due to an overwhelming interest in the NRA’s shooting programs, the group expanded by constructing a new facility near Lake Erie, 45 miles east of Toledo, Ohio.


In 1934 the NRA formed its Legislative Affairs Division to take up the cause of defending the Second Amendment. While the NRA was not involved in lobbying at this time, it did mail out legislative facts and summaries to members, who could take subsequent action.

The NRA offered its ranges to the government during World War II, and even encouraged its members to serve as guard members throughout the war. The association developed training materials for industrial security, and helped gather more than 7,000 firearms for Britain’s defense against a possible invasion from Germany.


The tenor of the organization changed after World World II, as the NRA began to accommodate the recreational sportsman, even putting together an Olympic rifle team.

The NRA came out in support of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which forbade selling guns by post. In 1980 the group endorsed a presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, for the first time.

In 1973 the organization released a new magazine, The American Hunter. To further its protection of gun rights, the NRA eventually formed the Institute for Legislative Action, or ILA, in 1975.

In 1997 the NRA began publication of The American Guardian to appeal to a more mainstream audience and focus less on the technical aspect of firearms. The magazine was renamed America’s 1st Freedom in 2000.

This NRA's current shooting range, Camp Perry, is now the home of the annual National Matches, an NRA marksmanship competition with more than 6,000 people competing each year.

Current Objectives and Activities

While the National Rifle Association has not strayed from its initial mission of firearms training and education, its interests have expanded to the political arena. Though not a political machine in itself, the NRA is a powerful lobbying group, and often comes out in support of conservative Republican candidates. A 1997 survey by Fortune Magazine named the NRA as the sixth most powerful interest group in America, though some congressmen have been on record as saying it could be the most influential [3].

Firearms Training and Owner Education

Although the NRA is heavily involved in political lobbying, the organization is still true to its roots by offering a range of safety programs to encourage the responsible use of firearms.

The group offers hunting safety educational courses for adults and children; it reaches youth through its Eddie Eagle program. The program has drawn criticism from groups such as the Violence Policy Center, which has claimed the NRA “misrepresented awards granted to the program by the National Safety Council” and “erroneously claimed endorsement by D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) [4].

The NRA also makes an effort to instruct firearm owners on the safe storage of firearms through its various publications.

Confiscation of Firearms in Disaster Situations

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans law enforcement officers were instructed to de-arm residents before allowing them into evacuation centers. The NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation filed for a temporary restraining order on Sept. 23, 2005. The restraining order was fulfilled by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and barred further gun confiscations as well as demanded the return of previously confiscated guns to their lawful owners.

On March 1, 2006 the NRA filed a motion for contempt against then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, the Property and Evidence Division of the New Orleans Police Department, and the city itself for failing to comply with the restraining order. The resulting NRA v. Mayor Ray Nagin is pending in the federal court system.

In June of the same year, the NRA came out in support of Act 275, which forbids the confiscation of firearms from lawful citizens in declared states of emergency. The act was signed by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco.

International arms control

LaPierre sees United Nations discussion of an Arms Control Treaty as an attack on national sovereignty and the Second Amendment. He quoted John Bolton, who was not confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under the George W. Bush Administration but had spoken against earlier drafts as interim representative,

The [Obama] Administration is trying to act as if this is really just a treaty about international trade between nations, but there's no doubt — as was the case back over a decade ago —that the real agenda here is domestic firearms control.

LaPierre wrote,

Details of the Obama/Clinton-endorsed treaty — which has not yet been finalized — will surely include international monitoring and control of every aspect of firearm commerce and ownership in the United States. [5]

He argues that "literally all of the international gun confiscation groups couch their renewed U.N. treaty effort in terms of what they call 'human rights'. But in the newspeak lexicon of the U.N., 'human rights' doesn't mean the right to self-defense as we know it."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated the position, in 2009, "On a national basis, the United States has in place an extensive and rigorous system of controls that most agree is the “gold standard” of export controls for arms transfers."[6] without calling for additional restrictions. LaPierre, however,argues that she "did not mention the Second Amendment or U.S. sovereignty. Her silence on those seminal elements of our freedom, stands in stark contrast to the audacious defense of American liberty by President George W. Bush under Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton...[who said in July 2001] "we do not support measures that prohibit civilian possession of small arms...the United States will not join consensus on a final document that contains measures abrogating the constitutional right to bear arms."[5]

Proposition H in San Francisco

In November 2005 the majority of voters in San Francisco approved Proposition H, which, if put into effect, would ban the sale, manufacture and distribution of firearms and ammunition within the city limits, effective Jan. 1, 2006. The act would also ban the possession of handguns, making San Francisco the third major U.S. city to enact such a ban, after Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Within a day after the election, the NRA, in conjunction with other gun advocacy groups, filed a lawsuit challenging the ban. The law, according to the NRA, impeded into territory that should be state-regulated. On June 12, 2006 San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren sided with the NRA. The city later appealed the ruling, but lost.

Political Victory Fund

The NRA Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) serves as the organization’s political action committee. The PVF ranks political candidates, regardless of party affiliation, based on their voting records, public statements and responses to a PVF questionnaire. These grades are then entered into a database, which prospective voters are able to search by zipcode.

Organizational structure

The National Rifle Association is governed by a board of directors, usually numbering about 75. The board is responsible for selecting the president, who acts as the organization’s spokesperson, from among their members.

Among the group’s most notable leaders was actor and activist Charlton Heston, who stepped down in April 2003 after developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The NRA’s sixtieth and current president is Ron Schmeits, who held the position of first vice president before replacing John C. Sigler in May 2009. Sandra Froman held the post from 2005-2007, and Marion P. Hammer, the group’s first female president, served from 1995 to 1998. Both Froman and Hammer currently serve on the board of directors.

The directors are also charged with the task of appointing an executive vice president, currently Wayne LaPierre, Jr., who functions as the chief executive officer. Chris W. Cox holds the position of executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, and Kayne Robinson is the executive director of NRA General Operations.


The Better Business Bureau has given the National Rifle Association a rating of B- on an A through F scale [7].

In 2004 the annual revenue of the NRA was approximately $205 million, with CEO LaPierre receiving a salary of just under $900,000 the same year. The revenue figure was a substantial increase from the $150 million the group brought in ten years prior. The NRA had more than $222 million in assets at the end of 2004.


In addition to helping to overturn Proposition H in San Francisco and supporting Act 275 in Louisiana (see above), the NRA can boast a number of political and legislative victories.

The NRA’s Political Victory Fund endorsed several candidates in races in Virginia in November of 2009—Bob McDonnell for governor, Ken Cuccinello for attorney general and Bill Bolling for lieutenant governor. All three candidates won their respective races, as well as 58 out of the 59 candidates in the Virginia House of Delegates who were endorsed by the PVF.

In national congressional races in 2008, 230 of the 271 candidates (85%) endorsed by the PVF were victorious. Additionally, the PVF achieved an 84% success rate in thousands of state legislative races the same year.

Recent Controversy

The NRA stepped down as the governing body for the Olympic sport of shooting in 1994 after a multi-year battle with representatives from the United States Shooting Team. A panel from the United States Olympic Committee recommended the NRA’s authority be revoked, citing federal law. Team representatives accused the NRA of using its affiliation with the Olympic team to further its own goals.


  1. NRA "Brief History" Web page, accessed Aug. 30, 2009 from
  2. "Guns in America: Arms and the man." The Economist (1999) Vol. 352, Iss. 8126, Pgs. 17-20
  3. Fortune article retrieved from, accessed Dec. 2, 2009 from
  4. Violence Policy Center’s findings on the Eddie Eagle program, accessed Dec. 6, 2009 from
  5. 5.0 5.1 Wayne LaPierre (February 2010), "The First Step in Trampling Our Rights", America's First Freedom, National Rifle Association: 8, 55
  6. Hillary Clinton (14 October 2009), U.S. Support for the Arms Trade Treaty, U.S. Department of State
  7. Better Business Bureau Reliability Report for the NRA, accessed Dec. 8, 2009 from