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Where did the National Rifle Association come from?

by B.B. Pelletier

Now, there’s a loaded question. Pun intended! It’s loaded with emotion for many people in the U.S. and for those who watch the United States from outside the country. I expect many people believe the NRA was founded to protect the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or to protect “gun rights,” whatever they might be.

Actually, the association was founded to correct a problem our nation faced during the American Civil War. By 1860, our nation was more urban than we might believe. Men were not as reliant on firearms as their fathers and grandfathers had been, and the Union Army faced an appalling lack of basic rifle marksmanship skills and even common sense firearm handling skills. As far as I can tell, the South did not have this problem to the same degree, if at all. It was largely an agricultural society at that time, so firearms knowledge was probably a lot more common.

Several Union Army generals and a few other influential people founded the NRA in 1871 “To promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.” A plot of land was found on Long Island, the Creed farm, and, with financial help from the State of New York, the land was purchased and given to the new organization in 1872. It became the famous Creedmore range.

Rifle marksmanship was turned into a scientific practice with the help of several books of the period, and the NRA was under way. However, when World War I broke out, Americans again lacked the shooting skills they needed. While shooting had been popularized, shooting technology had not, and new inductees were more familiar with muzzleloading black powder rifles than with modern, bolt-action repeaters. The NRA was quick to catch up with the times and even insisted that the Springfield Arsenal produce a .22 rimfire version of the U.S. M1903 battle rifle for training programs around the nation.

Still, when World War II broke out, our armed forces found themselves behind the technological curve once more. During peaceful times, it seems that many citizens do not practice rifle marksmanship. When the bad times come, they have to be trained in the basics and then advanced to the latest state-of-the-art firepower. In WWII, it was the semiautomatic Garand and Johnson rifles.

Today, the NRA oversees the training of more than a million new young shooters each year. Airguns have become the primary training tool. In the 1950s (when I learned to shoot), .22 rimfire rifle was used most often. However, even in my day, indoor ranges for the lowly .22 rimfire were in short supply. I was lucky enough to have been in an NRA training program in the 1950s, but a lot of kids never had the chance because there were no ranges close by. Air rifles change all that, of course.

This past weekend, I attended the NRA Annual Meetings in St. Louis, and I visited the airgun range. They have been running this event for the past five years or so, and this year it was a huge success. Thousands of youngsters and oldsters alike got to sample some very modern and accurate air rifles.

Back in the 1970s, when I joined the NRA as a Life Member, the organization thought of airguns strictly as a child’s first shooting experience. Today, they see them as the best way to introduce anyone to the shooting sports, and they’re starting to realize airguns are perhaps the best way to bring new members into the organization.

Citizens of the United States are proud of their freedom to shoot firearms, yet this country has never won Olympic gold in an airgun event. Airguns now comprise one-third of all Olympic gun-shooting events, yet the U.S. has never won gold. Some countries have now stripped all airguns from their populace, and others are heading in the same direction. We have the right to keep and bear arms, yet we sometimes treat that right as a trivial thing. If history shows us anything, it’s that bad times will always come. When they do, we have to be able to shoot.

The NRA has 4 million members, but there are over 70 million households in this country that have guns. The NRA was founded to spread rifle marksmanship, but today it stands as the only bulwark against the political forces that attempt to disarm our citizens. There is a much greater threat than a lack of basic firearms knowledge, and that is complacency.

The readers of this blog share a love of shooting. Because of the NRA, U.S. citizens are also able to own and use firearms as well as airguns. We shoot because we love to, but we should also bear our arms proudly and strongly so that no political body can ever take away our rights.

In case no one has ever asked you, I invite you to join the NRA and join the battle to defend out rights. It’s the Second Amendment that secures all our other rights!

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

37 thoughts on “Where did the National Rifle Association come from?”

  1. BB,

    Been reading through your Reports, and let me say they are truely priceless. Look forward to many more as my interest in air guns is just starting.

    Forgive me for changing the subject for a moment, esp. on one of the first comments. What scope mount do you recommend for a Diana 34 Panther? Or rather, do I need an adjustable c-mount as Umarex states to account for the barrel drop? I also wonder if the problematic rails have been changed at all for the Panther?

    I plan on purchasing the Leapers 3-9×40 5th Gen scope plus the Accushot Med. Profile Full mount and install as you recommend by “hanging the stop pin in front of the scope rail.” Hope it’ll work without damaging the rifle more than the slipping c-mount would.

    I (literally) can’t wait until your perfect Diana mount is designed and ready!


  2. One can join the NRA as an associate member for $11 (I think). You do not get the magazine nor have voting privileges. I joined this way to be able to participate in NRA matches and get the Shooting Sports magazine (not offered through the regular membership).

    Frankly, I find the American Rifleman to be overly political with few articles of interest on shooting.

    Joining this way, I get the magazine I want, the NRA privileges I want, and almost none of the politics.

  3. Joe,

    The politics is what keeps our gun rights safe. Political candidates have learned not to cross the NRA, or to bring very big support if they do.

    But it’s sad that 4 million people have to support the rights of 300 million.


  4. OAKside,

    Your mounting method will work for the Panther, which is identical to the wood-stocked rifle except for the stock. Any one-piece mount that has a vertical stop pin will work.

    I am impatient about the new mount, too.


  5. BB,

    You said “Airguns now comprise one-third of all Olympic gun-shooting events, yet the U.S. has never won gold. “

    You are partially correct. Yes we have, Nancy Johnson of the U.S. won gold in the 2000 0lympics in the Women 10-meter Air rifle event. No Americans has ever won ANY medal (gold, silver or Bronze) in the men’s 10-meter Air rifle event. Why? Lots of reason. Matt Emmons is our best hope in 2008.


  6. Oakside,
    Use the new RWS “C” mount for your scope on a Panther 34. Forget using a reversed mount with a scope stop pin hanging over the front of the scope rail. I have a 4×12-44 Nikko-Sterling scope mounted on an RWS 34 with perfect results after 1,000 pellets. Nothing has budged!
    Mount the “C” mount on the rail using the stop pin in the rear hole. Then loosen the front ring 1/2 turn from snug, then tighten. Loosen the rear ring 1 1/2 turns and tighten. Loctite (222 or 242) all screws!
    This ring setting accomodates the barrel droop. Mount your scope and use the scopes adjustments for sighting-in. It’s easy and it does work. The RWS gunsmiths in Arkansas are helpful with questions Good Luck!

  7. gercourt,

    I think I may just try that! A reader posted a month or so ago that the RWS C-Mount is a re-badged B-Square 17301. If so, Pyramyd has the latter and it looks like a decent buy for the features. (Although I’d rather spend this money on BB’s down the road.) Any thoughts? Although more expensive, it looks like the proper method if indeed the new RWS/Diana rails are tougher/steel.


  8. bb,

    i just read your blog on large bore airguns and hunting with them, and i have a question. if i hunt groundhog with the 909 .45 cal, will it be a massacre, because i hear a lot of ppl using a .22 air rifle to take groundhog, and i am a little curious about the power level thats appropriate for game around that size. thanks for all your help.


  9. The problem with the NRA when it comes to tragic events like the VA Tech shootings is that they are basically silent and monolithic on the matter. This adds to the perception that if the NRA is not part of a solution, they are part of the problem. They are perceived as spending far too much of their energy lobbying politicians and not enough working with communities to prevent senseless massacres such a VA Tech. The NRA has politicized their existence so much that the first thing that Bush said in his statement today was that his administration is committed to upholding the rights for Americans to bear arms.

    Was Bush’s statement aimed at the NRA lobby and its 4 million members, or was it for the 296 million Americans who don’t belong to the NRA? I think I know.

    I am not anti-gun by any means, but I think that the sooner the NRA recognizes some middle ground on these issues, the sooner we can start dealing with the tragedy of 38,000 Americans killed every year by firearms.

  10. Oakside

    The B-Square 17101 mounts are only 8 cents more than the mini mounts. It may give you a little more clamping power and if you have to reverse the mounts that would be no problem. Also some guns may have more or less droop to them. I would try and get it as close as I could at 20 yards or so after optically centering the scope.

    Nylon stocks are hollow and some people have been filling them with different kinds of foam to control the added vibrations.

  11. Don’t waist your money on mounts that are not adjustable on a drooper. It’s not worth it. It doesn’t matter if your going to mount a $10 scope or a $300.
    Also your left right adjustment is just as important if not more so.
    You would think that tightning one side of the adjustment would push it away from you but its the opposite. Just take your time and you may want to shoot the gun awhile if its new.

  12. Tragedy,

    There is a big difference between deaths caused by crime and deaths caused by careless gun handling, which some call acidents. The latter number is far less than the one you give. Don’t expect the NRA to deal with the crime that caused the majority of those 38,000 deaths you mention, except to keep the number that low by promoting self defense.

    Deaths from crime are a national tragedy, and the NRA works to reduce them by promoting the right to bear arms. It’s noteworthy that in regions that have concealed carry, the death toll is lower than in regions that prohibit a citizen’s right to be armed.

    The tragedy is that too many states and municipalities have illegaly disarmed their populace. However, I note than many of those who endorse gun control also own and carry guns themselves, so the bans aren’t as effective as some legislators would like.

    There is no middle ground on this issue. The left has turned that into a slippery slope. Fortunately, the NRA will not stop its campaign to ensure the rights granted by the second amendment.


  13. I’ll chime in on this.
    The reason I am NOT an NRA member is because they’ve simply gone too far, much like the ACLU.

    When the NRA decided to defend the sale of armour piercing bullets (commonly known as “copkillers”) they went too far.

    I’m for responsible ownership of guns and all for the Bill of Rights, but when the NRA does things like this they are being irresponsible and undeserving of my support. Just as the ACLU is undeserving of my support when they defend child molesters, as they did when thet defended the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).

    The slippery slope argument only hold so much water. It is interesting that those that oft warn about the slope don’t look at the slope the other way. The NRA defends copkillers…….slope on down to defending bazookas. The ACLU defends child molesters……slope on down to rapists.

    IMHO, the slope can work both ways.

  14. Dave,

    Many big bore hunters have taken woodchucks or groundhogs with big bores. The .308 Bandit is especially popular for woodchucks and prairie dogs.

    Even with a .45 caliber rifle, it still matters how good the shot placement is. Concentrate on accuracy and don’t worry about target damage. After all, the goal is a humane kill.


  15. Unfortunately, as soon as people start throwing around phrases like “cop killer bullets,” it only makes them look foolish, and a victim of the mass media. That term was generated years ago by the media when certain drunks in Congress wanted to ban (and still do) a huge swath of ammunition, including calibers commonly used as full metal jacketed rounds for big game hunting. Yes, those rounds can penetrate police body armor, but the punks on the street don’t carry hunting rifles. The NRA rightfully stood up for common sense & the truth and opposed the legislation, despite being demonized (again) by the ignorant media.

    Please stop using nifty media-hyped “catch phrases” and take the time to investigate the truth behind the stories. Yes, I think the NRA has made mistakes over the years, but the FACT remains: without the NRA, you would not continue to have the right (in most places) to choose to own a firearm, or most likely even an air rifle.

  16. bob the only one going to far here is you, criminals don’t use hunting rifles, so no, the NRA hasn’t gone too far. Those other examples of the ACLU are true and I agree on that, but you obviously don’t know enough about guns based on your statement.

  17. In general the whole “cop killer” bullet mess is something few people understand completely, probably including me. First off, no one called them “cop killers” until a CA media outlet in the ’80s started using the term. The ammunition itself was actually for police use only, sold mainly to law enforement, and I don’t think there was ever a case where the stuff was used in a killing. It was a news headline in search of a real problem.

    IIRC the original bullets were KTWs with teflon coating and some kind of alloy slug. My understanding is that they were designed to not deform or come apart when hitting hard object, and the teflon was there to protect the bore of the gun from wear.

    After a while enough attention was whipped up (in part due to a “Lethal Weapon” movie) that lawmakers decided to enact legislation. The reason the NRA came out against that is because what they were proposing would outlaw a huge swath of normal civillian ammo.

  18. I should add that the whole “cop killer” deal was about handgun ammo. Almost any rifle with enough power for deer will punch through a common police bullet resistant vest regardlessof what ammo you’re using.

  19. Well you mean to humanely kill deer every time, because it doesn’t take that powerfull of a rifle to kill a deer, even so called “weak guns” such as a .22 rimfire which is still deadly esspecially if its a headshot.

    Thats the thing, whether its a .22 rimfire or a 50 cal big bore buffalo rifle, both can still kill, just one is an absolute kill and the other takes carefull shot placement.

    Trust me, get some demonstration on even what a mere .22 intended mainly for sharpening shotting skills can do to a person. You might be surprised.

    Remember that one of the Virginia Tech shooters weapons that he used to kill was .22, and only a handgun at that. Compared to other guns, .22 hangun is about as weak as you can go in the firearm world, yet he managed to kill with it.

  20. There is no middle ground, you either have a right or you don’t. When you decide to settle on the middle, any extreme decides the outcome. Maybe we should find a middle ground regarding what folks can say about elected officials?

    Regarding the horrific crime at VT; guns were not allowed on campus, that stopped who? Anyone who might have used one legally to defend himself or others. People need to realize that cops are there to document crimes and find criminals after they have committed a crime. If you think they are there to protect “you” well, that’s a sad mistake. I wish the brave professor who blocked the door had been armed, he might be alive today and the killer might have claimed fewer victims.

  21. Actually, if you read your history, not the press releases, it was the “copkiller” bullet that got Pres. Reagan. All accounts say that if it wasn’t this particular bullet, most like the injuries would not have been as catastrophic. You can blame it on the media if you like, but I’ve never seen a deer wearing a bulletproof vest.

    I’ll be interested to see whether the VT guy had guns that were obtained legally.

    When my son doesn’t show the capability to handle his privelage of driving responsibly, I take that privelage away. Due to the current culture, there is a large portion of America that can’t handle the privelage of firearms responsibly.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a tree-hugging liberal, but there has to be some restraint put upon the public due to their inability to handle certain privelages.

    When there are a large number of calibers and weapons available that will do the job of hunting the largest of game or shooting the most distant of targets, can we really justify the availability of guns designed specifically to kill humans in the most efficient manner posible? That is the question I’m posing.

  22. BTW, just got my question answered: The VTech shooter bought his guns legally. I’m for protecting our right to bear arms (within reason) but tell me, how does a foriegn national get the right to bear arms in the USA? That’s a serious issue, esp. with the current threat of terrorism.

    Virginia happens to be the home of the NRA. I wonder what part they had in drafting VA’s gun purchase laws? All I know is that I don’t want a bunch of foriegn nationals, many if not most of which have a dismal view of the US and its policies, to be allowed to legally purchase firearms. Seems like an awfully flawed policy to me, and one, as proven in yesterdays events, that is courting disaster.

  23. Regan was shot with expoding novelty bullets, IIRC only one of which actually exploded. The one that hit him never went off and bounced off a car first. And the chambering was in .22LR which can be stopped by any decent bullet resistant vest I’m aware of, regardless of the bullet type. Except for emergency personal defence, .22s aren’t recommended for anything larger than very small game.

    So-called “cop-killer” bullets aren’t exploding, they have a hard core to pass through semi-solid objects. Used against animals or humans (not wearing armor) they’re actually much _less_ deadly because the bullet doesn’t expand or deform and usually leaves a narrow wound channel.

    The VT shooter’s immigration status met enough requirements for a foreign national to buy a firearm. Not all do, although I’m unsure of the specifics.

  24. watch your words with “very small game” you can take medium sized game no problem with a .22.

    People underestimate to power of even lower end firearms.

    A hollow point .22 can rip you apart at high velocities.

    Heck I have a 1000 fps( chrono tested) .22 air rifle, and even it can take a clean kill with racoons with the right shot placement using crosman hoollow point or beeman kodiaks.

    My friend even .22’s can be quite lethal if you are a well trained shooter.

    I could easily defend myself with a .22 rifle efficiently my friend.

  25. What I do agree on though is that it should be harder to purchase one then it is, I love the way things are done here in Florida, large caliber weopons are available to buy.

    But before purchasing a gun, EVERYONE must wait 3 to 5 days before recieving it, allowing police to do a full check on your backround to help lessen the threat.

    Yet a law was recently passed in the last year or 2 that if you feel your life is threatened, you have the right to open fire.

    That is the best way to deal with things.

    Back where I used to live in Arizona, it was even better, concealed weopons weren’t allowed, so you could legally walk in public with a rifle in a sling or a pistol in a holster and its completely legal.

    Well guess what, there crime rate is among the lowest in the country, esspecially shootings…

  26. I was looking for information on an air gun I saw this weekend at the NRA convention. But now I must comment: “Freedom is not Free”. The Bill Of Rights was written for several reasons. Read it somtime. Do you know a police officer who leaves home with out a weapon? Why? He is on duty all the time. We all should be on duty all the time,if you want to.I spent over 30 years in the United States Army,most of it with a weapon of some kind close by.The NRA is not the only reason you can still rely on The Bill of Rights,but in my opinion it is in first place. SFretired

  27. Dear Mr Pelletier, (your surname sounds French)

    It was very interesting to read about the Diana co. history. I got a Diana Series 70 Model 75 from my grandfather and wondered where i can get parts fro it. The original badge is gone (the round one) and the rest of the action works needs some attention to fix. Do you have any ideas? Thank you. Johan

  28. Bob and the anonymous poster,

    I’m late jumping into this, and I am unsure if you will even have the opportunity to read it, but here goes.
    First off, you really should learn exactly what the media means when they adopt an avowed anti-gun organization’s buzzword.
    “Cop killer” was a term used to force off the market the KTW brand of handgun ammo that was very uncommon and extremely specialized.
    It differed from conventional handgun ammo in that it had a hardened steel core designed to penetrate body armor, coupled with a Teflon coating that (contrary to popular myth) served only to protect the handgun bore the same way a softer than steel (usually gilding metal) jacket is used on conventional ammo.
    This ammo wasn’t inherently more lethal than other handgun ammo.
    As a matter of fact, when used on unarmored living targets, it would probably improve said target’s survival rate due to its pencil thin wound channel that would have resulted from its purposely designed lack of expansion.
    As you should know by now, a hollowpoing/softpoint is going to generally create a larger wound channel and, by definition, far greater likelihood of disabling trauma, including death.
    The real purpose for KTW ammo for police was the extremely rare circumstance that would necessitate a police officer taking out an armed assailant wearing a vest.
    Yes, bullet-resistant vests are perfectly legal for the general public to purchase, and the infamous North Hollywood bank robbery shootout is the perfect example that would have made the KTW round so useful, as most of the police on the scene that day didn’t have a REAL vest penetrating round on hand, such as nearly ANY centerfire rifle producing above 1,000fpe.
    As a matter of fact, that day, they finally were able to defeat the two thugs when they located a gun store with what the anti-gunners like to dub “assault rifles,” which were actually ordinary .223 Remington semi-automatic rifles, probably either Ruger Mini-14s or Colt AR-15s.
    Which brings up the crux of the reason that the NRA so strenuously (unsuccessfully) fought the ban on KTW.
    Keep in mind that almost ANY centerfire rifle with conventional hunting bullets will penetrate all but the most hardened vest (usually those with ceramic or stainless backing plates), with many of the really heavy calibers passing easily through BOTH sides.
    These calibers that can go through one layer include such behemoths as the .30-30 Winchester, the .35 Remington, and the .222 Remington; all hardly outlandish calibers.
    Do I need to spell it out for you why the NRA fought legislation that, as originally written, would have banned ANY ammo that could penetrate a vest?

    Oh, and what about all those police officers who were massacred by thugs using KTW?
    Well, there was exactly one fatality when a bad guy shot a police officer…through the head.
    I am unaware of any vest yet devised that would prevent a fatality in such a circumstance.

    And, as for the VT shooting, do keep in mind that the NRA helped the legislature and governor craft revised legislation that would have prevented someone with the killer’s mental illness background from legally purchasing firearms there.
    So much for absolutist positions, n’est pas?


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