WASHINGTON, D.C. — They are absolutist in their interpretation of the Second Amendment. The NRA learned that controversy isn’t a problem but rather, in many cases, a solution, a motivator, a recruitment tool, an inspiration.
Gun-control legislation is the NRA’s best friend: The organization claims an influx of 100,000 new members in recent weeks in the wake of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn. The NRA, already with about 4 million members, hopes that the new push by Democrats in the White House and Congress to curb gun violence will bring the membership to 5 million.
The group has learned the virtues of being a single-issue organization with a very simple take on that issue. The NRA keeps close track of friends and enemies, takes names and makes lists. In the halls of power, it works quietly behind the scenes. It uses fear when necessary to motivate supporters. The ultimate goal of gun-control advocates, the NRA claims, is confiscation and then total disarmament, leading to government tyranny.
“We must declare that there are no shades of gray in American freedom. It’s black and white, all or nothing,” Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at an NRA annual meeting in 2002, a message that the organization has reiterated at almost every opportunity since.
“You’re with us or against us.”
The National Rifle Association was founded in 1871 by National Guard and retired Army officers in New York who vowed to “promote rifle practice” and improve marksmanship. The first president, Civil War general Ambrose Burnside, had seen too many Union soldiers who couldn’t shoot straight. For generations thereafter, the NRA focused on shooting, hunting and conservation, and no one thought of it as a gun lobby.
The turmoil of the 1960s — assassinations, street violence, riots — spurred Congress to pass the Gun Control Act of 1968, the first major piece of gun legislation since the New Deal. Supporters of gun control originally included California Gov. Ronald Reagan, who worried about the heavily armed Black Panthers.