The National Rifle Association of America, or NRA, is an American non-partisan, non-profit (501(c)(4)) organization which lists as its goals the protection of the Second Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights and the promotion of firearm ownership rights as well as marksmanship, firearm safety, and the protection of hunting and self-defense in the United States. It was established in 1871 in New York by William Conant Church and George Wood Wingate as the National Rifle Association; its first President was former Senator and famous Civil War Union Army General Ambrose Burnside. President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant served as the NRA’s eighth President and General Philip H. Sheridan as its ninth.
The NRA sponsors firearm safety training courses, as well as marksmanship events featuring shooting skills and sports. According to a 1999 Fortune survey, lawmakers and congressional staffers considered NRA the most influential lobbying group. Its political activity is based on the principle that gun ownership is a civil liberty protected by the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and is the oldest continuously operating civil rights organization in the United States. According to its website, the NRA has nearly four million members.
NRA firearms safety programs
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.
The NRA in its instructional guide The Basics of Personal Protection In The Home (published in 2000) has chapters on Basic Firearm Safety and Safe Firearm Storage.
Historically, the NRA has governed and advanced the shooting sports in the United States. However, in 1992 the NRA ceased to be the National Governing Body for Olympic shooting (USA Shooting is now the NGB), and in 2000 the NRA chose not to be a member of the National Three-Position Air Rifle Council. The NRA is not directly involved in the practical pistol competitions conducted by the International Practical Shooting Confederation and International Defensive Pistol Association, or in cowboy action shooting; both of these types of events have grown dramatically in recent years. The Bianchi Cup, hosted by NRA is considered among the most lucrative of all the shooting sports tournaments.
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.
The NRA also represents the USA on the International Confederation of Fullbore Rifle Associations (ICFRA), which has as its primary function the administration of the World Long-Range Rifle Team Championships, contested every four years for the PALMA trophy, presented by the NRA for competition by “The Riflemen of The World”.
Many NRA competitions would not be possible without the help of volunteers. The NRA hosts more than 500 volunteers during the NRA National Rifle & Pistol Championships in Camp Perry, Ohio.
Grassroots shooting support
Through the NRA Foundation and Friends of NRA, the NRA also raises funds and distributes grants to local clubs. In addition to competitive marksmanship and gun safety, local programs supported by the NRA include instructor/coach training, gun collector programs, hunting programs, and programs for law enforcement officers.
The National Rifle Association will issue recognition credentials to individuals who are trained by the Association to be instructors. Divisions of instructor are divided into what are referred to as “disciplines”. Each discipline earned is indicative that the person is qualified to teach in relation to that area. Instruction in a particular field includes marksmanship, maintenance, and legalities. Instructors are required to teach at least 1 person per year in each discipline in order to keep their certification in that discipline current. There are varied levels of most disciplines, including Apprentice Instructor, Assistant Instructor, and Certified Instructor. This differentiation is primarily a matter of age and legality. A person can become an Apprentice Instructor as early as the age of 15, with upgrade to Assistant upon turning 18, and upgrade to certified instructor at the age of 21. Per the NRA’s policies for instructors, Apprentice and Assistant Instructors are not allowed to conduct courses alone. A certified instructor must be in charge of the course. The NRA recommends that one instructor supervises no more than 4 students on the firing line at one time, though it’s not a requirement it is highly recommended, for this reason, and others most instructors work in teams, though Instructors may work alone if they choose. In cases where multiple instructors are present it is not uncommon to have a Range Safety Officer. Instructors and Range Safety Officers are trained by Training Counselors, who are themselves trained by Senior and/or Master Training Counselors or NRA Staff in Training Counselor Workshops NRAHQ.org Instructors are first and foremost responsible for following and teaching the principles of safety, including the “Three Rules of Safe Gun Handling.” Disciplines include (but are not limited to):
- Home Firearms Safety
- Muzzle-loading Rifle
- Muzzle-loading Shotgun
- Muzzle-loading Pistol
- Personal Protection in the Home (The required course for obtaining a Concealed Carry License in Michigan)
- Personal Protection Outside the Home
- Reloading Metallic Cartridges
- Reloading Shotgun Shells
- Range Safety Officer
- Chief Range Safety Officer
Instructors not only teach firearms usage, care, and cleaning, but can coach students and other persons and help them develop Marksmanship skills.
In order to help encourage firearms practice, the NRA has a Marksmanship Qualification Program. This program is divided into several disciplines and each discipline has multiple awards that can be obtained. The awards are offered for successfully completing each in a series progressively more difficult courses of fire. All of these awards, except Distinguished Expert, are on the honor system. An NRA certified coach or certified instructor must witness the participant successfully complete the course for this more prestigious series of awards. The awards are provided in the form of “rockers” which are typically sewn on below a large round discipline-specific patch. The various awards are as follows:
- Basic Practical
- Marksman First Class
- Sharpshooter; Bars 1-9
- Distinguished Expert
The ranks Pro-Marksman through Sharpshooter can be self certified, but the rank of Distinguished Expert must be witnessed by another NRA Member, or by an NRA certified instructor or certified coach. 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:
- Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
- Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
- Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
Relations with other organizations
The National Rifle Association maintains ties with other organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, and 4-H. NRA relations with these groups include monetary donations, equipment donations to supply firearms ranges, and provision of instructors to assist in their programs. Notably, the Boy Scouts of America has strict guidelines on who is allowed to operate their ranges, the recognized personnel groups including NRA Certified Instructors along with military and law enforcement.
The NRA joined the ACLU and several other civil liberties organizations in joint letters to President Clinton on 10 January 1994 and to the House Committee on the Judiciary on 24 October 1995 calling for federal law enforcement reforms drawing on lessons from Waco and Ruby Ridge.
Members of Congress have ranked the NRA as the most powerful lobbying organization in the country several years in a row. Opponents of the organization accuse it of unduly influencing political appointments. Chris W. Cox is the NRA’s chief lobbyist and principal political strategist, a position he has held since 2002. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the NRA spent $10 million.
In its lobbying for gun rights, the NRA asserts the Second Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to bear arms. The NRA opposes measures which it believes conflict with the Second Amendment and/or the right to privacy enjoyed by gun owning citizens. Additionally, the NRA has litigated against legislation such as the Brady Bill on the grounds that it conflicted with the Tenth Amendment, not the Second Amendment.
On June 26, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the first time in American history in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment provides for an individual right to own a gun. The implication of this major decision will play out over the next several decades. However, the lawyer who organized the plaintiffs, Robert Levy, told the Washington Post he is “not a member of any of those pro-gun groups,” and the case was funded only by him. The NRA has since been a party to a lawsuit the emergency legislation enacted by the DC government, claiming it violates the constitution by continuing to ban all semi-automatic handguns, and by requiring that any firearm in the home be disassembled, unloaded, and locked away unless there is an immediate threat of violence.
In 2005, the NRA, the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), and others successfully sued the Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin 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.