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!