The NRA vs. The NRA

wayne lapierreWill the real NRA please stand up?

Is it just the swaggering and posturing draft-dodging entertainers like Ted Nugent and Hank Williams, Jr. who publicly taunt the President with threats and boasts of firearm violence?

Is it just the people, including high school students, who post hate-filled and frequently-racist Tweets and Blog entries?

Is it just an easy gig that pays its officers well?

Is it just a front for the firearms and equipment manufacturers who use the NRA to publicize their goods?

Is it just ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), the Koch brothers-guided group that aligns corporations with Conservative politicians to push through legislation like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws?

Or is it the several million “just folks” who use firearms and hunting to put meat on the table? Or compete in recreational competitive shooting events (there are fifteen shooting events in the Summer Olympics and one in the Winter Olympics), and who promote teaching firearm safety in connection with these activities?

Or, is it all of these, depending on who’s looking?

Maybe a little background would clarify matters.

Most people know that the National Rifle Association was organized in 1871, by two former Union Army officers, Gen. George Wingate and Col. William Church. They were concerned about the poor shooting skills of the city-bred Union soldiers, and wanted them to be better prepared if hostilities broke out again.

How it got from this point of practical concern to the virulent craziness we deal with today is a fascinating story with some surprising turns.

Gun Control—Not Always a Second Amendment issue.

It’s stating the obvious to say that the NRA is against gun control. But, it wasn’t always so. And telling people that the NRA was formerly in favor of gun control, as was Ronald Reagan, can lead to some really interesting discussions.

The Founding Fathers, for example, not only allowed citizens to possess firearms, but required it. A 1792 federal law mandated that every eligible man purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. These men had to report for frequent musters—where their guns would be inspected and–GASP!–registered on public rolls.

Also, the Southern states had a long history of prohibiting blacks, both slaves and freedmen, from owning guns. After the Civil War, white posses patrolled the former Confederate states in order to confiscate guns held by blacks. The most famous of these posses was the Ku Klux Klan.

On this issue, Congress passed two laws in 1866 to clarify the issue of blacks owning guns. These laws defined the freedmen as United States citizens and made it a federal offense to deprive them of their rights on the basis of race. Senator James Nye (R—Free Soil—NV), a supporter of both laws, told his colleagues that the freedmen now had an “equal right to protection, and to keep and bear arms for self-defense.” President Andrew Johnson vetoed both laws. Congress overrode the vetoes and impeached President Johnson.

The NRA was generally silent on the issue of gun control as a national issue until the National Firearms Act of 1934 was being debated in Congress. The legislation imposed a steep tax, along with registration requirements, on what was termed “gangster guns”: machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. Aside from exempting handguns from the act, arguing that people needed them for home protection, the NRA supported the legislation as “reasonable, sensible, and fair.”

In the 1960s, in the wake of the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King, the NRA once again supported the push for new federal gun laws. When the final version of the Gun Control Act was adopted in 1968, NRA President Franklin Orth said the “measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”

But during this same period, fewer people were buying guns for hunting, and more for protection. Ironically, this attitude was held both by whites, and by newly forming black militant groups like the Black Panthers (originally the Black Panther Party for Self Defense).

It was during this time that then-Governor Ronald Reagan voiced his support for gun control.

Supporting legislation by Alameda County Assemblyman Don Mulford to control armed black militants like Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, Reagan said he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons,” calling guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said the Mulford Act “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”

It was during this time, also that the NRA suffered its version of a palace coup, when hard-liner factions led by Harlon Carter transformed the NRA into a lobbying powerhouse, committed to a more aggressive view of what the Second Amendment promised.

Soon after this, the NRA began demonizing any Federal law enforcement agencies, particularly the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) as “jack-booted government thugs.” Current NRA president Wayne LaPierre warned members that anyone who wears a badge has “the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.”

In an effort to exert further influence on national electoral politics, the NRA endorsed its first presidential candidate in 1980. Ironically, their choice was Ronald Reagan, the governor who gave California one of the strictest gun control regimes in the United States.

And so, having spent nearly $19 million in political contributions just in the 2011-2012 election cycle (both for Republicans and against Democrats) to get where it is, the NRA now finds itself under fire (pun intended) from various groups who blame it directly for the 8,583 firearm deaths in the United States in 2011 alone (68% of all deaths). The NRA is also blamed for facilitating, or at least condoning the recent massacres in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, by its unyielding support of civilian-owned assault rifles.

Sidebar: the US Army defines assault rifles as “short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges.” It is as far removed from a hunting rifle as an M1-A1 Abrams tank is from the family SUV.

It appears to be Big Decision time for the NRA. Some Americans would like to do away with the NRA entirely, perhaps not realizing the hardships to Olympic medalists like Kim Rhodes, Walton Eller, and Matthew Emmons from losing training facilities.

john macmurrayBut whatever the NRA wishes to be; however it regards itself and its place in the cosmos; some changes will have to be made in the way it does business.

And it will be up to the NRA to find an acceptable persona before Congress or a decreasingly tolerant American public finds it for them.

John MacMurray

Frieday, 21 December 2012

More Info at:

  • Assault Rifle Definition “US Ary intelligence document FSTC-CW-07-03-70, November 1970″. Gunfax.com. Retrieved 2012-08-26.
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Comments

  1. JoeWeinstein says

    My thanks too to John MacMurray for a really informative brief history.

    I’m still waiting for someone to recall and discuss the fact that in the 1930s the acronym ‘NRA’ referred primarily to something else entirely – not guns but economic recovery. THAT NRA remains of enduring historical significance in the history of activist government in the USA, and its widely promoted message of shared enterprise and sacrifice is still worth recalling: ‘We do our part!’

    • jmacmurray says

      That would be the National Recovery Administration? Thanks for reminding me. One of my uncles, recently passed, worked for a time with the CCC (Bush Marines, as he referred to them) during the depression when jobs in their small Arizona town were just about non-existent. A lot of good work got done, and a lot of payroll reached the town merchants that would not have. People tend to forget how all this works together.

  2. Gary Chomiak says

    Thanks, John. You describe this well and gave me much needed background information on the NRA and the Second Amendment.

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