Jun 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

What to know about the NRA

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks at the organization's annual convention.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre at the NRA annual convention May 27 in Houston. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The recent streak of mass shootings in the U.S. has renewed calls for stricter gun control laws, and put the National Rifle Association back in the spotlight.

Why it matters: The NRA for decades has been one of the most powerful lobby groups in the country, but it may not hold the sway it once did.

What is the NRA?

Founded in 1871, the NRA's original purpose was to promote marksmanship as a response to poor accuracy by Union troops during the Civil War.

During much of the 20th century, its focus was on promoting gun safety and restricting access to firearms.

  • The NRA worked with Congress on gun control laws in the 1930s, as shotguns and the automatic Thompson gun became associated with gangster violence and bank robbery.
  • In the 1960s, the association again supported new gun control laws in response to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and others.

Things changed in 1971, when federal agents executed a search warrant at the apartment of NRA member Kenyon Ballew in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ballew armed himself and was shot by federal agents during the raid. He survived his wounds and was never charged with a crime.

  • The NRA condemned the raid as government overreach. The incident is seen as the beginning of the group's hard-line stance against new gun laws.

In 1975, the association formed its lobby arm, the Institute for Legislative Action.

Another watershed moment for the gun lobby came in 2008, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess firearms and is independent of service in a militia.

  • NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said of the ruling, "Our founding fathers wrote and intended the Second Amendment to be an individual right. The Supreme Court has now acknowledged it. The Second Amendment as an individual right now becomes a real permanent part of American Constitutional law."

Why was the NRA so powerful?

By the numbers:

  • It has 5 million members, according to AP.
  • The NRA's lobby arm began 2021 with almost $50 million in net assets, and in the first quarter of 2022 spent over $620,000 on federal lobby efforts, CNBC reports.
  • The organization's political action committee had $15 million at the beginning of May, according to a Federal Election Commission filing. In April the PAC donated $70,000 to Republicans running in midterm elections.

The NRA, through its PAC, grades candidates running for office at the state and federal levels with an A–F system, based on their stances on gun-related issues.

  • It also endorses candidates in both primary and general elections.

Does the NRA still have power?

In recent years, the NRA's power has waned as gun owners splinter on political issues, leaving it vulnerable to rival gun lobby organizations.

In 2020, the NRA was forced to cut salaries, lay off employees, and cancel fundraising and other events in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

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