In A Nutshell
When the NRA was founded, it was with the goals of teaching marksmanship, preparing citizens for the defense of their home and country, and gun control. While the NRA still does those things today, they’re much more involved in the political side of things. What changed? Increasing gun violence in the 1960s allowed a man named Harlon Carter to take control of the NRA in 1977, catering to the faction of the organization that believed guns needed to stay in the hands of the people. Carter himself had, at 17, been convicted of the shooting death of a 15-year-old.
The Whole Bushel
“I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of gun. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under license.”
Sounds like someone who wants nothing to do with firearms of any sort, and thinks that the world was a better, safer, and cheerier place before they were invented, right?
The quote is from Karl T. Frederick, who was the president of the now-notorious National Rifle Association when he said it. He was an Olympic gold-medal winner for sharpshooting in 1920, and he wasn’t alone in his opinion.
Today, the NRA is firmly entrenched on the side of America with guns, guns, and more guns. To anyone who suggests anything along the lines of gun control, the NRA represents the extreme of the other side. And that wasn’t always the case.
From the beginning, the NRA was founded with principles of safety at the forefront. The founding members were veterans of the Civil War, and they established the NRA because they had seen years of fighting and bloodshed that they felt could have been over much sooner if members of the state militia had only had the proper training before being sent into battle. For the South, guns were a way of life. For the everyday Northerner, who didn’t have to rely as much on hunting, that wasn’t the case. While the North might have had the industry to make the better guns, the founders of the NRA were determined to make sure that they also had the skills to use them.
The focus wasn’t on the right of the individual to have a gun, it was a focus on the responsibility of the individual to be prepared for any eventuality, and to defend themselves and their cities and towns from raids, rebellions, and invasions.
Even into the 1920s and 1930s, the NRA was involved in drafting the gun control legislation that popped up as a necessity in the years around Prohibition. Bootleggers and gangsters were more and more dangerous as automatic weapons came onto the scene, and it was the NRA that helped write the legislation to control the sale of transfer of weapons.
That legislation included things like a one-day waiting period between buying a gun and getting it, along with increased jail time for crimes that were committed with the assistance of a gun. They were also instrumental in drafting the details of the National Firearms Act in 1934 and the Gun Control Act in 1938.
So what changed?
The modern NRA and the modern stigma on gun control is in large part because of a schism between the 1960s NRA leadership and the everyman. When gun violence started becoming more commonplace, the leaders of the NRA continued to back the idea of gun control. The everyman, though, began to cultivate the idea of “guns for the good guys as protection from the guns and bad guys” that’s still talked about today. And in 1977, a man named Harlon Carter flipped the NRA on its head.
Carter believed that more and more restrictions meant that eventually, no one would be able to own a gun. He got the support of the ordinary members that wanted less (or no) gun control, and he won in his bid to seize leadership.
Later, it would be found that when he was 17 years old, he had been convicted in the shooting death of a 15-year-old teenager. The conviction was later overturned when he pled self-defense.