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I WAS JUST THINKING: Lost art of fighting – with hands: PART III

How did the NRA get so powerful, and why?

By Norma Adams-Wade

Ambrose Burnside
Ambrose Burnside, NRA’s first president

Part I: The old days when you and Pooky had a beef and fought it out by hand – not with gunfire.

Part II. The AK-47 and AR-15 high-powered combat weapons, are now legally sold to teenagers and mentally ill citizens.


Part III. How the National Rifle Association became so powerful.


Surely you have wondered how the National Rifle Association (NRA) became so powerful, with politicians in its pocket like loose change.

I was just thinking…what’s up with that? Here’s what I found.


The NRA began harmless enough as a group of enthusiastic big game hunters seeking mainly to improve sports marksmanship and/or provide a food source for their families. Some NRA members also felt it wise to collect personal firearms to protect against potential tyrants using “government over-reach” to control citizens. More recent members simply are fascinated with the weaponry craft and mechanics of its varied attachments, ranging from muzzles to optics.

Two Union Army veterans – former Union Army Colonel William C. Church and Union Army General George Wingate — founded the NRA 152 years ago in 1871 in New York, six years after the Civil war ended. Former Union Army General Ambrose Burnside was the first NRA president. Charles L. Cotton, an attorney and gun rights advocate, has been the current president since 2021.

veteran William
Union Army veteran William Church, one of two NRA co-founders in 1871.

Money talks. Over this more than a century and a half of existence, researchers say the NRA has ballooned to 5 million members and a yearly revenue of more than a quarter of a billion dollars for gun sales. Evidence is clear that politicians largely cannot resist the appeal of that financial boon to their campaign funds — thus the argument that elected officials overwhelmingly are “in the pocket” of the NRA, sadly choosing profit over saving lives of constituents.


Some prominent names closely associated with the NRA include late actor Charlton Heston, a former NRA president and star of the classic movie The Ten Commandments, former U. S. President Ulysses S. Grant, controversial Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North, and gun lobbyist and the first female NRA president Marion Hammer.


Where did we get the misguided idea that the 2nd amendment to the U. S. Constitution – the one commonly believed to prescribe that each citizen has the “right to keep and bear arms” — is sacrosanct ; that it is untouchable and cannot be amended? Other laws have been upgraded and amended.

Why not that one? Also, a longstanding debate prevails wherein one side argues that the 2nd Amendment specifically only relates to the rights of a national militia. The other side claims that 2nd Amendment rights also includes those of individual citizens.

Still another feud is that the hyper-destructive nature of today’s automatic weapons – including AK-47s and AR-15s – far exceed the firing power that the 2nd amendment protected for those 18th century, slow-reloading muskets and cannons.

Lost art of fighting
A firing squad of musketeers firing early-century muskets, unlike current powerful AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapons.

NRA youth training programs help explain why the controversial group has stayed around as long as it has. Since 1903, the powerful lobbyist organization has operated youth sports shooting competitions and rifle clubs at colleges, universities and military academies. Researchers say the NRA sponsors more than a million NRA youth sports- shooting events and related programs. Participating groups include Boy Scouts of America, National High School Rodeo Association, and 4-H clubs. That’s getting its feet in the door for the next generation.


The final series installment will explore suggested ways that average citizens may employ to pressure elected politicians to honor citizen’s wishes rather than scripts of powerful lobbyists such as the National rifle association. See you next week for the series’ conclusion.

Norma Adams-Wade, is a proud Dallas native, University of Texas at Austin journalism graduate and retired Dallas Morning News senior staff writer. She is a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and was its first southwest regional director. She became The News’ first Black full-time reporter in 1974.

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