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National Rifle Association

The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) is an American nonprofit organization that advocates for gun rights.[5][6][7]

National Rifle Association of America
National Rifle Association official logo.svg
Founded November 16, 1871; 146 years ago (1871-11-16)[2]
Founder William Conant Church, George Wood Wingate
Type 501(c)(4)[1]
53-0116130
Focus Firearm ownership rights, political advocacy, publishing[1]
Location
Area served
United States
Services Membership organization, magazine publisher, education/certification, museum curation
Method Lobbying, publications, outreach programs
Members
5 million (as of 2017)[4]
Key people
Pete Brownell, President
Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President
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
$348 million (2013)[3]
Expenses $291 million (2013)[3]
Website NRA.org

Founded in 1871, the group has informed its members about firearm-related bills since 1934, and it has directly lobbied for and against legislation since 1975.[8] It also claims to be the oldest continuously operating civil rights organization in the United States.[9]

Founded to advance rifle marksmanship, the modern NRA continues to teach firearm competency and safety. It instructs civilians and law enforcement, youths and adults, in various programs. The organization also publishes several magazines and sponsors competitive marksmanship events.[8] 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.[10][11] Over its history the organization has influenced legislation, participated in or initiated lawsuits, and endorsed or opposed various candidates.

The NRA has several charitable subsidiaries: the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund, the NRA Foundation Inc., the NRA Special Contribution Fund, and the NRA Freedom Action Foundation.[1][10][12][13] The NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) is its lobbying arm, which manages its political action committee, the Political Victory Fund (PVF).

Contents

History

Early history

 
Seal of the National Rifle Association
 
William Conant Church, one of the association's founders

The National Rifle Association was first chartered in the state of New York on November 16, 1871[2][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.[14] 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.[14] When Burnside resigned on August 1, 1872,[15] Church succeeded him as president.[16]

Union Army records for the Civil War indicate that its troops fired about 1,000 rifle shots for each Confederate soldier 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."[17][18][19] The generals attributed this to the use of volley tactics, devised for earlier, less accurate smoothbore muskets.[20][21]

 
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, Britain and Germany to observe militia and armies' marksmanship training programs.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] Wingate then wrote a marksmanship manual.[19]

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.[19]

Rifle clubs

 
Ulysses S. Grant served as president of the NRA from 1883–84.

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.[19] Former President Ulysses S. Grant served as the NRA's eighth president[25] and General Philip H. Sheridan as its ninth.[25] The U.S. 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 U.S. military.[26] In 1907, NRA headquarters moved to Washington, D.C. to facilitate the organization's advocacy efforts.[19] Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal began the manufacture of M1903 Springfield rifles for civilian members of the NRA in 1910.[27] The Director of Civilian Marksmanship began manufacture of M1911 pistols for NRA members in August 1912.[28] 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.[29]

1934–present

The NRA formed its Legislative Affairs Division to update members with facts and analysis of upcoming bills,[30] after the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) became the first federal gun-control law passed in the U.S.[31] 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."[32] 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.[33]

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.[34]:158 The 1977 annual convention was a defining moment for the organization and came to be known as "The Cincinnati Revolution".[35] 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.[36][37]

Political expansion

After 1977, the organization expanded its membership by focusing heavily on political issues and forming coalitions with conservative politicians, most of them are Republicans.[38] 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.[39]

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.[40] 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.[41] In 1994, the NRA unsuccessfully opposed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), but successfully lobbied for the ban's 2004 expiration.[42] 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.[43]:262–68

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,[2] 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".[44] The National Association of the Deaf, founded in 1880, and the NAACP, founded in 1909, have made similar claims.[45][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.[45] According to its present-day bylaws, the NRA's first purpose and objective is:

"To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, especially with reference to the inalienable right of the individual American citizen guaranteed by such Constitution to acquire, possess, collect, exhibit, transport, carry, transfer ownership of, and enjoy the right to use arms...."[1]

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 political action committee (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.[10] 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]

The modern NRA opposes most new gun-control legislation, calling instead for stricter enforcement of existing laws and increased sentencing for gun-related crimes. The NRA-ILA describes its mission as follows: "the Institute is involved in any issue that directly or indirectly affects firearms ownership and use. These involve such topics as hunting and access to hunting lands, wilderness and wildlife conservation, civilian marksmanship training and ranges for public use, law enforcement-related issues, product liability, trapping, crime victim rights and criminal justice reform."[52]

Internationally, the NRA opposes the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).[53] As of January 2014, it supported efforts by Republican Sen. Jerry Moran to prevent funding the treaty unless ratified by the Senate, which opposes the treaty.[54] It has opposed Canadian gun registry,[55] supported Brazilian gun rights,[56][57] and criticized Australian gun laws.[58]

Elections

 
Wayne LaPierre, the 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] The NRA is a single-issue organization with regard to advising its members and gun owners on Second Amendment issues. The PVF also grades Congressional and state legislature candidates based on their positions on gun rights, not on party affiliations.[60] 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".[61] It also helps its members locate an NRA Election Volunteer Coordinator (EVC) for their area and to register to vote.[62]

The NRA endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in 1980 backing Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter.[63][64] The NRA's policy is to endorse pro-gun incumbents because of their established record.[60] For example, in the 2006 Senate Elections the NRA endorsed Rick Santorum over Bob Casey, Jr.,[65] even though they both had an "A" rating.

The NRA spent $40 million on U.S. elections in 2008,[66] including $10 million in opposition to the election of Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign.[67]

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.[68] The Huffington Post called the recall "a stunning victory for the National Rifle Association and gun rights activists."[68] Morse and Giron helped to pass expanded background checks and ammunition magazine capacity limits after the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, and Sandy Hook, Connecticut, shootings.[69]

On May 20, 2016, the NRA endorsed Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.[70] The timing of the endorsement was unusual, as the NRA typically endorses Republican nominees towards the end of the general election, mostly due to the strong gun control stance of Hillary Clinton[71]

Senate confirmations

In 2006, the NRA lobbied U.S. Representative F. James Sensenbrenner to add a provision to the Patriot Act reauthorization that requires Senate confirmation of ATF director nominees.[72] For seven years after that, the NRA lobbied against and "effectively blocked" every presidential nominee.[72][73][74] First was President George W. Bush's choice, Michael J. 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.[75] Confirmation of President Obama's first nominee, Andrew Traver, stalled in 2011 after the NRA expressed strong opposition.[72][76] Some Senators resisted confirming another Obama nominee, B. Todd Jones, because of the NRA's opposition,[74] 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.[72] Dan Freedman, national editor for Hearst Newspapers' Washington D.C. 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".[77]

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.[78] 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."[79] 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".[80]

The NRA also opposed the appointments of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan as Supreme Court justices.[81]

Legislation

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

The NRA supported the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA),[82] which regulated what were considered at the time "gangster weapons" such as machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and sound suppressors.[83] However, the organization's position on suppressors has since changed.[84]

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.[85]

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.[86][87]

The NRA influenced the writing of the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) and worked for its passage.[88]

In 2000, when evidence surfaced that the Pittman-Robertson Act sportsman's conservation trust funds were being mismanaged, NRA board member and sportsman, U.S. Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs Improvement Act. The NRA-backed bill passed the House 423–2 and became law on November 1, 2000, and defines in what manner the monies can be spent.[89]

In 2004, the NRA opposed renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. The ban expired on September 13, 2004.[90]

In 2005 President 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.[91]

The NRA-backed Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act of 2006 prohibited the confiscation of legal firearms from citizens during states of emergency.[92]

In 2012, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the NRA called on the United States Congress to appropriate funds for a "National School Shield Program", under which armed police officers would protect students in every U.S. school.[93][94] The NRA also announced the creation of a program that would advocate for best practices in the areas of security, building design, access control, information technology, and student and teacher training.[94][95][96][97]

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.[98] The city appealed the court's ruling, but lost a 2008 appeal.[99] 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.[100]

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.[101]

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.[102]

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.[103][104]

In 2013, the NRA joined the ACLU in a lawsuit against the federal government over the National Security Agency's surveillance of Americans, citing concerns that the NSA's data collection violates gun owners' privacy and could potentially be used to create a national gun registry.[105]

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.[106]

In November 2013, the city of Sunnyvale, California, passed an ordinance banning certain ammunition magazines along with three other firearm-related restrictions. The new ordinance 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. Measure C also requires:

  1. city residents to report firearm theft to the police within 48 hours,
  2. residents to lock up their guns at home, and
  3. gun dealers to keep logs of ammunition sales.[107]

The city of San Francisco then passed similar ordinances a short time later. The NRA has joined with local citizens to file suit and challenge these ordinances on Second Amendment grounds.[108] Additionally, the San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association (SFVPOA), represented by NRA attorneys, filed a lawsuit challenging San Francisco's ban on the possession of standard-capacity magazines.[109]

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.[110] 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.[111] 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.[112][113]

Programs

Museum

 
NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia

The National Rifle Association owns and operates the National Firearms Museum. It was located in Washington, D.C., from 1935 until 1998, when it moved to Fairfax, Virginia. The museum is focused on the evolution of firearms and the history of firearms in America.

In August 2013, the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum opened at an expansive Bass Pro Shops retail store in Springfield, Missouri, after 10 years of planning. It displays almost 1,000 firearms, including historically significant firearms from the NRA and other collections.[114][115][116]

Publications

The NRA publishes a number of periodicals including American Rifleman, American Hunter, America's 1st Freedom, Shooting Illustrated, Shooting Sports USA, and NRA Family InSights.[117]

Firearms safety

The NRA sponsors a range of programs designed to encourage the safe use of firearms. NRA hunting safety courses are offered in the United States for both children and adults. Classes focusing on firearm safety, particularly for women, have become popular. Intended for school-age children, the NRA's "Eddie Eagle" program encourages the viewer to "Stop! Don't touch! Leave the area! Tell an adult!" if the child ever sees a firearm lying around.[118] The NRA has also published an instructional guide, called The Basics of Personal Protection In The Home (published in 2000).[119]

Shooting sports

Instigated on by the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, the NRA mandated the establishment of National Teams and National Development Teams, a national coaching staff, year-round training programs, and a main training site for Olympic shooting sports. In 1994, following disagreements between the NRA and athletes over control of the program, the U.S. 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.[120]

The NRA hosts the National Rifle and Pistol Matches at Camp Perry, events which are considered to be the "world series of competitive shooting"[121] Commonly known as Bullseye or Conventional Pistol, shooters from the military as well as many top-ranked civilians gather annually in July and August for this competition.

A large number of trophies are awarded during the annual competition, including:

  • Leech Cup, established in 1874 for long-distance rifle shooting
  • Wimbledon Cup, established in 1875 for 1000-yard rifle shooting

The NRA also sponsors its National Muzzle Loading Championship at the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association's Friendship, Indiana facility and the Bianchi Cup in Columbia, Missouri.

The current NRA competitions division publishes its own rulebooks, maintains a registry of marksmanship classifications, and sanctions matches. The NRA also represents the United States on the International Confederation of Fullbore Rifle Associations (ICFRA) which administers the World Long-Range Rifle Team Championships, contested every four years for the PALMA trophy.

Instructors

The National Rifle Association issues credentials and trains firearm instructors in a wide variety of disciplines. NRA Certified Instructors teach marksmanship, safety, firearm maintenance, and legalities.[122] The NRA developed a nationally recognized certification for range safety officers.[123] The Boy Scouts of America requires certified instructors, specifically NRA Certified Instructors, to supervise shooting at their summer camps.[124] NRA Certified Instructors are permitted to teach legally required classes required for CCW (Carrying Concealed Weapon) licenses in Florida.[125]

Relationship with other organizations

The National Rifle Association maintains ties with other organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America and 4-H.[126] Involvement includes monetary donations, equipment to supply firearms ranges, and instructors to assist in their programs. The National Rifle Association has worked with Pink Pistols through Pink Pistols submitting amicus briefs in different Supreme Court cases relating to guns such as DC v. Heller.[127] The NRA has also worked with the American Civil Liberties Union in opposing gun registration.[128][129][130] The National Rifle Association has also filed an amicus brief in support of the American Civil Liberties Union in ACLU v. Clapper[131] though the ACLU and the NRA have a different interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Organizational structure and finances

Leadership

Presidents

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

Executive staff and spokespersons

Since 1991, Wayne LaPierre has been the organization's executive vice president, and functions as the chief executive officer.[140] 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.[141] Kayne B. Robinson is executive director of the General Operations Division and chairman of the Whittington Center.[138]

Actor Chuck Norris serves as a celebrity spokesperson for the association.[142] Colion Noir hosts a video program on the NRA's online video channel.[143]

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).[144] In 2015, 71 members were white and 65 were male. More came from Texas than any other state.[145] Only 7% of eligible members vote.[146]

Most nominations are vetted by a nine-member Nominating Committee.[147] The committee is appointed, though the appointment process is not public.[148] One member is George Kollitides of the Freedom Group.[147] 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".[146]

Notable directors, past and present, include:[145]

Membership

According to Wayne La Pierre, as of May 2013, NRA membership exceeded 5 million, 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.[162] 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.[4][163]

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.[164]

Notable members

Nine U.S. Presidents have been NRA members. In addition to Grant, they are: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush (who resigned in 1995), and Donald Trump.[165][166][167] Three U.S. Vice Presidents, two Chief Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and several U.S. Congressmen, as well as legislators and officials of state governments are members.[168][169]

Current or past members also include journalist Hunter S. Thompson,[170] Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh,[171] documentarian Michael Moore (but for subversive purposes),[172] actor Rick Schroder,[173] and singer James Hetfield.[174]

Interconnected organizations

The National Rifle Association is composed of several financially interconnected organizations under common leadership.[175]

NRA Institute for Legislative Action

The NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) manages the NRA's Political Action Committee (PAC). Some of its activities include retaining lobbyists to support gun-rights legislation and election operations such as the purchase of campaign advertising.[175]

NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund

The NRA Civil Defense Fund is a 501(c)(3) that does pro bono legal work for people with cases involving Second Amendment rights. As of December 2012, it was litigating in 35 states cases concerning the possession, use, and carrying of firearms.[175]

According to its website, the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund was established in 1978 by the NRA Board of Directors "to become involved in court cases establishing legal precedents in favor of gun owners."[176] 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.[177] 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.[177] It supported the case of Brian Aitken, a New Jersey resident sentenced to seven years in state prison for transporting guns without a carry permit.[178] The NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund helped to pay Brian Aitken's legal bills, according to NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre.[179] On December 20, 2010, Governor Chris Christie granted Aitken clemency and ordered Aitken's immediate release from prison.[180]

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.[181] The foundation has no staff and pays no salaries.[181]

According to its website, the NRA Foundation was established in 1990 and considers itself "the country's leading charitable organization in support of the shooting sports, having awarded thousands of grants in support of educational programs."[182]

Friends of NRA is a grassroots program, conceptualized by National Rifle Association of America's Wayne Sheets and MidwayUSA's Founder and CEO, Larry Potterfield,[183] that raises money for The NRA Foundation, the organization's 501(c)(3).[184] As part of Friends of NRA activities, volunteers in the United States organize committees and plan events in their communities.

Established in 1990, The NRA Foundation raises tax-deductible contributions in support of a wide range of firearm related public interest activities. These activities are designed to promote firearms and hunting safety, to enhance marksmanship skills of those participating in the shooting sports, and to educate the general public about firearms in their historic, technological and artistic context. Funds granted by The NRA Foundation benefit a variety of constituencies throughout the United States including children, youth, women, individuals with disabilities, gun collectors, law enforcement officers, hunters, and competitive shooters.[185]

NRA Freedom Action Foundation

According to its website, the NRA Freedom Action Foundation was created to focus on voter registration and citizen Second Amendment education.[186][187][187]

NRA Political Victory Fund

According to its website, the NRA Political Victory Fund (PVF) is a political action committee (PAC) that grades candidates based on their voting records and public statements, and on their answers to a PVF survey. In the 2008 elections, the PVF spent millions "on direct campaign donations, independent campaign expenditures and on mobilizing the most aggressive grassroots operation in NRA history."[188]

NRA Special Contribution Fund (Whittington Center)

The NRA Special Contribution Fund supports the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico. The center was founded in 1973 and is a 33,300 acre outdoor recreation facility that hosts competitive, educational, and recreational shooting activities. The site also says that although the center is associated with the National Rifle Association, it is not underwritten or managed by the NRA.[189]

Affiliates

The NRA allows clubs and businesses to affiliate with it.[190]

The NRA has an official state association in every state and in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.[191]

Finances

Name Year Income in Millions Expenses in Millions
National Rifle Association (NRA) 2011[192] 218.9 231.0
NRA Institute for Legislative Action n/a n/a n/a
NRA Civil Defense Fund 2012[193] 1.6 1.0
NRA Civil Defense Fund 2013[194] 1.3 0.9
NRA Foundation 2012[195] 43.0 29.1
NRA Foundation 2013[196] 41.3 31.4
NRA Freedom Action Foundation 2012[197] 2.1 2.3
NRA Freedom Action Foundation 2013[198] 0.5 0.1
NRA Political Victory Fund 2012[199] 14.4 16.1
NRA Political Victory Fund 2014[200] 21.9 20.7
NRA Special Contribution Fund 2012[201] 3.3 3.1
NRA Special Contribution Fund 2013[202] 4.3 3.6

In 2010, the NRA reported revenue of $227.8 million and expenses of $243.5 million,[203] with revenue including roughly $115 million generated from fundraising, sales, advertising and royalties, and most of the rest from membership dues.[204][205] Less than half of the NRA's income is from membership dues and program fees; the majority is from contributions, grants, royalties, and advertising.[181][204][206] The NRA has said that less than 5% of its funding comes from the firearms industry, with the majority coming from small donors.[207]

Corporate donors include a variety of companies such as outdoors supply, sporting goods companies, and firearm manufacturers.[181][204][206][208] From 2005 through 2011, the NRA received at least $14.8 million from more than 50 firearms-related firms.[204] 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.[208] 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.[181]

Public opinion and image

In six of seven Gallup polls between 1993 and 2013, a majority of Americans reported holding a favorable opinion of the NRA.[209]

A Reuters/Ipsos poll in April 2012 found that 82% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats saw the NRA "in a positive light".[210]

In December 2012, 54% of Americans held a favorable opinion of the NRA, though there was a wide spread among party affiliations: 83% of Republicans, 54% of independents, and 36% of Democrats.[209]

A Washington Post/ABC News poll in January 2013 showed that only 36% of Americans had a favorable opinion of NRA leadership.[211]

Criticism

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.[212][213][214] 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 U.S. President George H. W. Bush resigned his life membership to the organization after receiving an 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".[215][216] The NRA later apologized for the letter's language.[217]

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.[218]

Gun control

In February 2013, USA Today editors criticized the NRA for flip-flopping on universal background checks for gun purchases.[219]

In March 2014, The Washington Post criticized the NRA's interference in government research on gun violence,[220] and both Post and Los Angeles Times editors criticized its opposition of Vivek Murthy for U.S. Surgeon General.[221]

Gun manufacturing industry

In December 2012, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette board said the NRA spoke for gun makers, not gun owners.[222][223] In 2011, the VPC's 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".[208]

Mass shootings

The NRA and some of its leaders were criticized in the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.[206][224] New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called an online video created by the NRA and released after the Sandy Hook shooting "reprehensible" and said that it demeaned the organization.[225] A senior lobbyist for the organization later characterized the video as "ill-advised".[226]

The NRA has been criticized for their media strategy following mass shootings in the United States. Some[who?] have criticized the NRA's strategy of shutting down its social media accounts and refusing to speak to the press. After the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, for instance, some[who?] criticized the NRA's silence on the shooting after the gunman, Stephen Paddock, gunned down over fifty people on the Las Vegas Strip.[227]

Media campaigns

In 2017, some criticized a video advertisement from the NRA. In the video, Dana Loesch runs through a list of wrongs committed by an unspecified "they." She says: "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." Mark Sumner from the Daily Kos wrote: the NRA is trying to boost gun sales by "convincing half of America to declare war on the other half." Zack Beauchamp from Vox 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."[228]

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.[229]:110–111 Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO) has also disagreed with NRA for what it perceives as a willingness to compromise on gun control.[230] The National Association for Gun Rights criticizes the NRA as not being conservative enough or not sufficiently protective of gun rights.[231][232] 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.[233]

Philando Castile

The NRA came under criticism from some of its own members and other gun rights advocates in June 2017 for its silence on the shooting of Philando Castile by a police officer at a traffic stop.[234][235] Castile had a valid firearm permit, informed the police officer about his gun, and was subsequently fatally shot by the police officer when he was allegedly attempting to retrieve his wallet.[234][236] According to The Washington Post, the NRA has typically "been quick to defend other gun owners who made national news", but stayed silent on the Castile shooting.[234] On July 9, an NRA spokeswoman commented on the incident, saying it was "a tragedy" that "could have been avoided".[237]

See also

References

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