For those of us with short memories, it can be difficult to understand the militant absolutism of the National Rifle Association. How did the group get so powerful? Why does it refuse to compromise, even when compromise seems inescapable? Has it always expressed contempt for the federal government?
In an illuminating and timely look back at the NRA, reporters Joel Achenbach, Scott Higham, and Sari Horwitz of The Washington Post answer these questions and more. With President Obama, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, and others pushing for new gun-control legislation, it's useful to know more about the NRA, to get a sense of how it might respond to this new legislative push.
Achenbach and company begin with what's known among gun advocates as the Revolt at Cincinnati on May 21, 1977. That was the night "a rump group of gun-rights radicals took over the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association," the reporters write. Until then, the NRA had been focused on "hunting, conservation, and marksmanship," keeping busy with such projects as teaching Boy Scouts to shoot and encouraging outdoor recreation. But the leader of the revolt, one Clifford Neal Knox, had an entirely different agenda:
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).
Achenbach, Higham, and Horwitz report that the NRA has 781 employees, 125,000 volunteers, and that its annual revenue tops $200 million.
Their story does a lot to explain why the NRA believes and behaves as it does, a valuable contribution at a time when so much of the coverage is focused on arguments between pro- and anti-gun forces. I recommend it.