The National Rifle Association, or NRA, is a non-profit (501(c)(4)) group dedicated to the protection of the Second Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights and the promotion of firearm ownership rights, marksmanship, firearm safety, and the protection of hunting and self-defense in the United States. It was established in New York in 1871 by William Conant Church and George Wood Wingate as the American Rifle Association; its first President was former Senator and famous Civil War Union Army General Ambrose Burnside
The NRA sponsors firearm safety training courses, as well as marksmanship events featuring shooting skills and sports. The NRA is sometimes said to be the single most powerful lobbying organization in the United States. It bases its political activity on the principle that gun ownership is a civil liberty protected by the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and claims to be the oldest continuously operating civil liberties organization in the United States. According to its website, the NRA has more than four million members.
The NRA sponsors a range of safety programs to educate and encourage the safe use of firearms.
NRA hunting safety courses are offered all across the U.S. for both children and adults. In recent years gun safety classes oriented more towards 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. The NRA has claimed that studies prove the "Eddie Eagle" program reduces the likelihood of firearms accidents in the home, and the program is used in many elementary schools nationwide.
However, the National Rifle and Pistol Matches at Camp Perry are sponsored by the NRA, which most consider the "World Series of competitive shooting". 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 well-attended competition. The NRA also sponsors its National Muzzle Loading Championship at the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association's Friendship, Indiana facility.
The NRA functions as a general promoter of the shooting sports. The NRA house magazine, American Rifleman, covers major shooting competitions and related topics, and the NRA offers a publication dedicated to competitive shooting, Shooting Sports USA. Most competitive shooters are NRA members.
The current NRA competitions division publishes its own rulebooks, maintains a registry of marksmanship classifications, and sanctions matches.
Instructors not only teach firearms usage, basic law, and care and cleaning, but can grade students and other persons on the quality of their Marksmanship. Those who score adequately are issued ranks and a certification to that effect by the NRA. While the rules and standards for the ranks depend on the firearm type, the ranks themselves are consistent and are as follows
The ranks Pro-Marksman through Distinguished Expert can be signed off on by an instructor or a current NRA member. The National Rifle Association keeps a list of its registered Instructors and can contact them for those seeking instruction. NRA Instructors can commonly be found at privately owned firearms ranges, and are commonly employed by the Boy Scouts of America on their summer camps. NRA Instructors cannot issue Concealed Carry Permits, or Tax Stamps for restricted firearms types, such writs must be issued at the state, or federal levels of government.
The NRA publishes gun safety rules. Three rules are given special importance and are known as the fundamental NRA rules for safe gun handling:
In 2005, the NRA, the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), and others successfully sued the Mayor of New Orleans and others to stop unconstitutional gun seizures in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As of March 2006, documents have been filed by NRA, SAF, et al. seeking to hold Ray Nagin and others in contempt of court for violating the consent order. The case is “National Rifle Association of America, Inc., et al. v. C. Ray Nagin et al.”.
The NRA had a great night. They beat both Speaker Tom Foley and Jack Brooks, two of the ablest members of Congress, who had warned me this would happen. Foley was the first Speaker to be defeated in more than a century. Jack Brooks had supported the NRA for years and had led the fight against the assault weapons ban in the House, but as chairman of the Judiciary Committee he had voted for the overall crime bill even after the ban was put into it. The NRA was an unforgiving master: one strike and you're out. The gun lobby claimed to have defeated nineteen of the twenty-four members on its hit list. They did at least that much damage and could rightly claim to have made Gingrich the House Speaker.|4=Bill Clinton|5=My Life pp 629-30
Because of a belief that laws should focus on criminals, not hardware, the NRA opposes most new gun-control legislation, calling instead for stricter enforcement of existing laws such as prohibiting convicted felons and violent criminals from possessing firearms and increased sentencing for gun-related crimes. The NRA also lobbies for "shall issue" right-to-carry laws for concealed carry licenses in many states. It takes positions on non-firearm hunting issues, too, such as supporting wildlife management programs that allow hunting and opposing restrictions on devices like crossbows and leg hold traps.
One example of the NRA's legislative effectiveness is that, while 7 US states and the District of Columbia still generally restrict the issuance of concealed carry permits ("may issue" or "no-issue"), 38 states have mandatory shall-issue issuance of such permits upon the applicant demonstrating completion of a training requirement or other basic criteria, 3 states have may-issue permits that are liberally issued by local law enforcement, and 2 states (Alaska and Vermont) have unrestricted universal concealed carry without any permit requirements.
Since Republicans tend to share the views of the NRA more often than Democrats, the NRA predominately endorses Republican candidates. The NRA's policy is that it will endorse any incumbent who supports its positions, even if the challenger supports them as well, as incumbents tend to hold more political power. This was evident in the 2006 Congressional Elections when the NRA endorsed Rick Santorum over Bob Casey, Jr. even though they both had an "A" rating from the NRA Political Victory Fund.Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which banned many features of certain semiautomatic rifles and certain types of removable magazines, against a campaign to make the ban permanent and expand it. The ban expired at midnight on September 13, 2004.
A new "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act" (S.397) passed the Senate (65–31) in late July 2005, passed the House (283–144) on October 20, and was signed by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2005. The bill carried two amendments: requiring the purchase of a trigger lock with any handgun purchase; and authorizing the Department of Justice to study the penetration characteristics of ammunition and make a determination if the ammunition fits the category of "armor piercing". These amendments were rejected by other pro-gun organizations that think these concessions will lead to more restrictions and impetus for lawsuits for those that do not use trigger locks.
On September 12, 2005 National Rifle Association executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre spoke out against these confiscations. "What we’ve seen in Louisiana — the breakdown of law and order in the aftermath of disaster — is exactly the kind of situation where the Second Amendment was intended to allow citizens to protect themselves," LaPierre said. The NRA filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District in Louisiana.
On September 23, two weeks after seizures began, NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation filed for a temporary restraining order. On September 24, 2005 U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued a temporary restraining order barring any further gun confiscations and ordering the return of lawfully owned firearms to their owners. On March 1, 2006, the NRA filed a motion for contempt against the city of New Orleans, its mayor, and the chief of police for failure to comply with the restraining order. On March 15, 2006, lawyers from both sides reached an agreement in the case of NRA v. Mayor Ray Nagin, which is pending before a federal court. The city of New Orleans admitted that it holds a number of confiscated firearms, and the Property and Evidence Division of the New Orleans Police Department is to return the firearms to their owners on request and proof of ownership or affidavit. In the chaos and destruction following Katrina many homeowners have, however, lost everything including the paperwork that would prove ownership. At this time (2006) the majority of the seized firearms have not been returned to the rightful owners. (See Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.)
In June 2006 Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco signed the NRA-backed Act 275, forbidding the confiscation of firearms from lawful citizens during declared emergencies. Similar legislation had already been adopted in nine other states.
On October 4, 2006 President George W. Bush signed into law the NRA-backed Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act of 2006 (incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill). This legislation prohibits the confiscation of otherwise legal firearms from law-abiding citizens during states of emergency by any agent of the Federal Government or anyone receiving Federal funds (effectively, any Federal, state, or local governmental entity). Introduced in Congress by Rep. Bobby Jindal and Sen. David Vitter, both of Louisiana, this bill enjoyed broad bipartisan support, passing the House of Representatives with a margin of 322-99 and the Senate by 84-16.
The day after the election, the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates filed a lawsuit challenging the ban, saying it oversteps local government authority and intrudes into an area regulated by the state. (A previous handgun ban, adopted in 1984, was successfully challenged on similar grounds.) On June 12, 2006 Superior Court Judge agreed with the NRA position, saying that California law "implicitly prohibits a city or county from banning gun possession by law-abiding adults".
The City appealed Judge Warren's ruling, but lost in a unanimous opinion from the three judge panel in the Court of Appeal issued on January 9, 2008.
The NRA organization is governed by a large (typically 75 member) board of directors. The directors choose the president, the leading spokesman for the organization, from among their members. Although traditionally this position changed annually, for several years it was consecutively held by Charlton Heston, who was a compelling promoter of the NRA agenda. Heston became afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and stepped down in April 2003. John C. Sigler is the current president, replacing Sandra Froman in 2007. Marion P. Hammer was the first female president, serving from 1995 to 1998.
The organization also has an Executive Vice President, who is not a director but functions as Chief Executive Officer, appointed at the pleasure of the directors. Wayne LaPierre has held this position since 1991. The Executive Director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action is Chris W. Cox.
The NRA Office of Advancement was created in 2005 to focus on building the NRA's endowment and underwriting programs and projects across the organization - including the NRA, the NRA Foundation, NRA-ILA, the NRA Whittington Center, and the Civil Rights Defense Fund. In 2007, the NRA Office of Advancement launched a new donor recognition society called the Ring of Freedom. In July 2008, the NRA Foundation was designated a Four Star Charity by Charity Navigator for the sixth consecutive year.
According to the BBB's web site, the NRA does not fall within their scope of Standards for Charity Accountability. They do note the following financials for the NRA as of December 31, 2004. Their CEO, Wayne LaPierre received a yearly salary of $895,897 in 2004. They also indicated that fundraising costs accounted for 46% of the contributions that they received. They are a 501(c)(4) organization and indicated that their total income in 2004 was $205,402,491. They had expenses of $206,886,970. Their total assets at the end of 2004 were $222,841,128.
JPFO and its leadership has also criticized the NRA's political strategy on several occasions, lambasting what it views as their counterproductive focus on Capitol Hill lobbying, as well as taking the NRA and its leadership to task for not explicitly making a connection between gun control measures introduced in the United States and those implemented by the Weimar Republic and subsequently "the Nazi regime in pre-war Germany", as well as other totalitarian, or ineffectual regimes that were eventually overthrown. To a certain extent, this criticism has been addressed in recent years by Wayne LaPierre, who has attempted to convince the public that the atrocities committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Yugoslavian Civil War, as well as the Rwandan genocide of 1994, can be traced to a lack of institutional, individual gun rights in those countries.
The NRA has also seen internal dissent from its membership, including a prolonged series of verbal attacks and campaigns initiated by Neal Knox, a former vice-president of the organization who attempted to depose both Wayne LaPierre and Tanya Metaksa, the former executive director of the NRA's Institute For Legislative Action, in leadership elections during the late Nineties which Knox described as putting down a "mutiny".
In addition to the generic criticism voiced by other more absolutist gun-rights organizations and public figures, Knox and his supporters allege that the NRA has failed to protect the rights of gun-owners during debates over proposed federal gun laws. They cite the NRA's involvement in the passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act, otherwise known as the McClure-Volkmer Act, which amended the Gun Control Act of 1968.
Although this represented a significant liberalization of the 1968 Gun Control Act, the fact that the NRA did not seek its outright repeal led some critics, such as Knox, to assert that it had abandoned its members.
Among the broader conservative community, the NRA has recently garnered extensive criticism for endorsing and supporting candidates who are generally perceived as being liberal on several or many other issues, e.g. Senator Arlen Specter, or who have a distinctly liberal position on a hot-button political subject such as amnesty, or whose support for gun rights has been called into question, e.g. Congressman Chris Cannon.
In American politics, conservatives sometimes split over the idea of incrementalism, the doctrine that stresses incremental political gain over an "all or nothing" approach. The NRA is widely regarded as being an incremental gun rights organization. This pragmatism often results in criticism from conservative sources.