It is one of the most prominent and controversial lobbying groups in the United States, synonymous with the contentious issue of second amendment rights and a staunch defender of any legislation that allows the American people to carry and use high-powered fire arms, but what exactly is the NRA and how did they rise to the heights they have in Washington?
The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) is a non-profit lobbying founded to promote gun rights in the United States of America. Its origins go back to 1871 making it the oldest continuously operating civil rights organisation in the country. It’s also believed to be one of the top three most powerful national lobbying groups, with a present membership in excess of 5 million ensuring the maintenance of a strong political profile and ample money to promote their agenda. The NRA spends roughly US$3.5mil a year supporting law makers to influence gun policy, but much, much more via PACs and independent expenditures, the total expense of which is difficult to track. They also count many politicians amongst their membership, further adding to their political influence, without huge financial expenditure.
The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, established in 1791, forms the legal basis for the NRA philosophy, stating in part “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. As well as protecting gun rights the NRA also promotes marksmanship, weapons knowledge and gun safety producing a range of literature along these lines.
Though the group has been lobbying politicians since 1934 it wasn’t until a concerted effort to initiate the spread of gun control throughout that US began that the NRA stepped it’s lobbying up. The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) lead to an increase in activism and political lobbying within the group and since then, the NRA has successfully fought off several campaigns by opponents.
In response to the GCA, the NRA forged several strong political alliances during the 1970’s, in particular with the Republican Party, whose conservative politicians often supported the NRA philosophy, eventually launching a lobbying arm, The Institute for Legislative Action in 1975 in an attempt to influence policy directly and also channel money to legislators who would be supportive of their agenda.
The number of mass shootings in the United States over the last twenty years, including school shootings, have created a sharp divide on the issue of gun control with the NRA claiming that these events illustrate the need for citizens to carry arms for self – defence and that more guns make the country safer. Following the Colombine High School Shooting, Charlton Heston, the then president of the NRA famously held a rifle over his head at a convention, stating that any opponents would have to take it “from my cold dead hands”. His opponents however have been vocal in their condemnation, believing that the easy availability of guns is the problem, rather than the solution.
Today gun control and gun ownership have become a major social and political issue in the United States with the NRA continuing to champion the rights of US citizens to bear arms. Only time will tell which side will win the war.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun” – Wayne La Pierre, Executive Vice President of the NRA, 2012