WASHINGTON, D.C. — The NRA didn’t like the 1968 law, viewing it as overly restrictive, but also didn’t see it as a slide toward tyranny. The top NRA officer, Franklin Orth, wrote in the association’s publication American Rifleman that “the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”
The key word: “sportsmen.”
In 1972, a new federal agency charged with enforcing the gun laws came into being: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Lawmakers raged against the terror of cheap handguns known as Saturday night specials.
It was in that environment that Neal Knox rose to prominence.
Clifford Neal Knox — born in Oklahoma, raised in Texas, a graduate of Abilene Christian College — started out as a newspaper reporter and editor before founding, at the age of 30, Gun Week magazine.
He wanted to roll back gun laws, even the ones that restricted the sale of machine guns. He believed that gun-control laws threatened basic American freedoms, that there were malign forces that sought nothing less than total disarmament. There would come a point when Knox would suggest that the assassinations of the 1960s and other horrors might have been part of a gun-control plot: “Is it possible that some of those incidents could have been created for the purpose of disarming the people of the free world? With drugs and evil intent, it’s possible. Rampant paranoia on my part? Maybe. But there have been far too many coincidences to ignore” (Shotgun News, 1994).
In the second half of the 1970s, the NRA faced a crossroads. Would it remain an Establishment institution, partnering with such mainstream entities as the Ford Foundation and focusing on shooting competitions? Or would it roll up its sleeves and fight hammer and tongs against the gun-control advocates? Or flee to the Mountain West? The latter was appealing, and the NRA leadership decided to move the headquarters to Colorado and also spend $30 million to build a recreational facility in New Mexico called the National Outdoor Center.