It was in 1938 that NRA President Karl T. Frederick spoke these words before Congress, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” That was the original NRA.
Created in 1871, the NRA’s purpose was to teach marksmanship, gun safety, and conservation to citizens. The stated reason was because the Union soldiers were terrible shots in the Civil War. That was the NRA that I grew up with. After I received my Daisy Red Ryder BB gun as a young boy, I learned to respect guns. The rifles and shotguns were for putting meat on the table and killing rodents.
Federal firearms laws of the 1930’s placed high taxes and registration requirements on certain classes of weapons, particularly those used in gang violence. These laws made it essentially impossible for machine guns, sawed off shotguns, and silencers to be owned by average people. Both the makers and sellers of guns had to register with the federal government, and convicted felons and other potentially dangerous people were barred from gun ownership. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld these laws in 1939. The NRA also supported the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act. (https://www.atf.gov/rules-and-regulations/gun-control-act)
Then in 1977 a small group of gun rights absolutists took over the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association in Cincinnati and shortly turned the NRA into arguably the most powerful political lobbying organization in the nation’s capital and certainly one of the most feared. They now advocate for the gun industry, spending millions of dollars lobbying politicians (including many of Wisconsin’s) to dismantle any remaining gun safety protections.
My memory of the NRA as a bunch of straight-shooters is a faint and distant memory. Perhaps that’s why so many of our youth see the NRA today as only a gun-toting NRA. Perhaps that’s also why, after 206,000 students have experienced gun violence since Columbine, an increasing number of them are saying “no way!”