When Did the NRA Become Evil?

The NRA strangles gun control and makes it easier for mass shootings to happen. But it hasn’t always been this way.

The NRA was founded in 1871 to train marksmen and organize competitive target shooting contests.

But by the 1970s, many members worried that the organization’s leaders weren’t standing up to continuous gun control legislation. In 1977, they staged a coup, rewriting the NRA’s bylaws and leaving its hunting roots in the dust. Known as the Revolt at Cincinnati (the city where it was staged), the coup was headed by Harlon Carter, who became the Executive Vice President of the organization.

Fun fact about Carter: he was convicted of murder at age 17. The victim was Ramón Casiano, 15, who was loitering near the Carter family car. Harlon came out of the house with a shotgun drawn and fired into Casiano’s chest after the latter pulled a knife. Carter claimed self defense, but the judge had none of it and sentenced him to three years for “murder without malice afterthought.” He later filed an appeal that let him walk free.

Under Carter’s eight-year stewardship, the NRA went political. Membership tripled, and the organization’s singular focus became lobbying politicians in their favor. That influence has only increased to this day. The NRA’s membership is now more than five million strong, and its lobbying efforts have rendered every attempt at gun control legislation since completely inept.

“This is an area of policy where America stands alone,” says David Studdert of Stanford University, who conducted a study on handgun sales in the state of California following mass shootings. Studdert says that Second Amendment zealousness written (and lobbied) into state and federal laws make research on gun safety and sales extremely difficult.

That represents yet another area where NRA has shined in the sinister era of mass shootings. They’ve completely morphed public perception. Nearly half of gun-owning Americans say they own a gun for protection, according to Pew Research surveys from 2013. That’s a staggering leap from just 26 percent in 1999. It’s due in no small part to the NRA’s call for more guns after every mass shooting in America, including calling for armed guards at elementary schools after Sandy Hook.

That’s what’s known as a feedback loop—people buying more guns to protect themselves from guns. It’s a concept that Studdert explored in his study and other research. Really, it’s paradox that only ends up introducing more guns into the environment, but logic be damned. The feedback loop is precisely what the NRA (and the gun manufacturers that depend on it) want. The more calls for gun control, the easier they can turn the argument around and shoot down evidence, regardless of what experts studying the issue might say.

“The question is what does owning a gun do for personal safety,” Studdert says. “My view of the evidence is pretty clear that it doesn’t make you safer. In fact, it puts you at greater risk for gun-related death and injury.

“But there is a view in the community that owning a gun does make you safer,” he continues. “We need better evidence to fully understand the protective effects.”

As long as the NRA lurks in the background, we might never get any.