The NRA - marksman’s friend that took aim at Washington

The group was set up in 1871 to train Americans how to shoot. But in the 1970s it found a new target – politicians

Soon after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot by a gunman in a Tucson car park last year, in an attack that left six dead including a nine-year-old girl, gun lobbyists and gun control advocates were invited to discuss policy at the Department of Justice in Washington.

The Union Army's records show that just one in 1,000 bullets fired during the American Civil War struck its intended target. That statistic spawned the NRA, which in 1871 was established by a pair of veterans with the mission to improve the marksmanship of their fellow Americans. For almost the first century of its existence it was known primarily as a club for hunters and sportsmen, not as the ultra-conservative, anti-government lobbying force it is today. In fact, in the first two decades of the 20th century it received government subsidies to keep it going.

It wasn't until 1934 that the NRA established a political wing, the Legislative Affairs Division, when its leaders testified before Congress during passage of the National Firearms Act: the first major example of federal gun control legislation. The NRA was supportive of the act, and of the 1968 Gun Control Act, which between them created a licensing and tax system for the private ownership of firearms.

But everything changed at the NRA's annual convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1977. The group had established a lobbying arm, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, two years previously. Its director was a keen Texan marksman, Harlon Carter. In Cincinnati, Carter headed a group of dissident hard-liners, passionate about their Second Amendment rights, who wrested control of the organisation from its more traditional leaders.

As Professor Robert Spitzer, a political scientist and the author of a number of books on the NRA, explains: "They felt gun owners were losing the political battle. From that point they became more political, their rhetoric became more anti-government, and they began to attract very conservative, hard-right political followers." During Carter's tenure as executive vice-president of the NRA, from 1977 to 1985, its membership tripled to three million, and its annual budget ballooned to almost $70m (£43m).

By 2010 that budget was $307m and the organisation claims it has 4.3 million members. LaPierre, who joined the NRA in 1977 and became its executive vice-president 1991, has a reported salary of $1m. The NRA raises money through memberships and merchandise – and also through large donations from other right-wing groups. "They have deep pockets," says Spitzer. "They don't have to reveal all the sources of their funding because they're a private organisation, but they're tied to the vast US right-wing money network."

In 1980, eager to make an impact in Washington, the NRA endorsed its first US presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, one of eight White House residents to have been an NRA member. Today, the NRA's president is David Keene, who previously worked as an adviser to Republican US presidential campaigns for Reagan, George Bush Snr and Bob Dole. In 2008, the NRA spent $100m campaigning against Barack Obama, and before he won the 2012 race, Keene said that keeping the President from a second term in office was his organisation's "major goal". This year's Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, courted the NRA convention in St Louis, saying he would "stand up for the rights of hunters, sportsmen and those seeking to protect their homes and their families."

The political power of the NRA became clear during the Clinton administration, when the then-President conducted a concerted personal lobbying campaign to get a ban on assault weapons through Congress. The ban was passed in 1994, and, in his memoir, Clinton blames the NRA for the electoral bloodbath that followed, when Republicans retook the House of Representatives from the Democrats at the 1994 Congressional elections. "The gun lobby claimed to have defeated 19 of the 24 members on its hit list. They did at least that much damage," Clinton wrote.

In 2008, the NRA celebrated the Supreme Court's unprecedented ruling that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own guns. Professor Spitzer said: "The organisation has poured millions of dollars into the writing of lawyers and amateur historians to support their historical claims. They build an academic façade around their arguments, even though most historians reject them. The NRA's great success was in generating enough pseudo-scholarly literature to persuade five members of the Supreme Court that their reading of the Second Amendment was correct."

Bullet points: A history of The NRA

1871: The National Rifle Association is founded by William Conant Church, a former reporter for The New York Times, and lawyer George Wood Wingate.

1934: The NRA establishes a Legislative Affairs Division to respond to new gun control measures, which they broadly favour.

1977: Second Amendment hard-liners wrest control of the NRA from the old guard at the organisation’s annual convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.

1980: The NRA endorses a presidential candidate for the first time, lending its support to Ronald Reagan.

1991: Wayne LaPierre is appointed the organisation’s CEO and Executive Vice President.

1994: After an Assault Weapons Ban is passed into law, President Clinton blames the NRA’s electoral interference for the loss of 34 Democrat seats in the House of Representatives.

2000: Some credit the NRA with instigating Democrat Al Gore’s presidential election defeat.

2008: The Supreme Court rules for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own guns.

2011: Following the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, LaPierre refuses to attend talks with gun control advocates.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?