The National Rifle Association (NRA) is frequently in the news. What do you know about this organization? Here are some things that might surprise you.
1. The NRA was not founded in the United States.
Roger Mundy, deputy curator at the Museum of the NRA in Bisley, England, said it was actually founded there at a time when Britain feared a possible invasion by the French. It was 1859, and the country's relatively small army was stationed around in the British empire, far from home. The Lords Lieutenant were instructed to raise corps of volunteer riflemen for self-defense. Twelve years later, the United States formed its own NRA in New York.
2. NRA shooting competitions and gun clubs were formed because soldiers in the late-1800's were bad at shooting.
Dr. Stephen P. Halbrook, a lawyer specializing in the Second Amendment, said "(The NRA) was founded by Union generals who had fought in the civil war. They wanted to encourage rifle practice and shooting skills because during the war the skill level was very low." Union Army records indicate that its troops fighting in the Civil War fired about 1,000 rifle shots for each Confederate hit.
Similarly, after British soldiers lost important battles in the Boer War in South Africa in early 1900, the general public realized the dire standard of shooting in the British Army, Mundy said. "Lord Roberts, a high-ranking officer, encouraged the formation of civilian rifle clubs in every town and village, so that every man could learn to shoot."
3. The first shooting competition was a royal affair.
In July 1860, Queen Victoria donated 250 pounds to reward the winner in a national competition for good marksmanship, said Mundy. "This was a considerable sum of money in those days, and was enough to buy a house, or set yourself up in business," said Mundy. Talented marksmen were treated as heroes. "The man who won the Queen's Prize was famous all over the country."
4. The NRA of the U.K. today is focused on shooting sports.
The War Office felt volunteer riflemen and artillerymen were too independent, according to Mundy, and, in 1907, the government took control of them. You could shoot a rifle, but in uniform and subject to military rules and discipline. Most of the population didn't want that inconvenience, so prone shooting at targets became more popular. The military authorities saw little value in this style of shooting while lying on the ground. Shooting done from standing, kneeling or sitting positions, as well as rapid fire and "fire-with-movement" better prepared soldiers for war. Eventually, there was less contact and mutual support between the armed services and the NRA, leaving the U.K. organization within the realm of shooting sports among civilians.
5. The NRA in the United States gains millions of supporters by emphasizing individualism.
Tapping into a longstanding suspicion of the federal government, the NRA promoted the need for people to act on their own for self-protection, said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Cortland.
(Carley Campbell contributed reporting to this story).
ABOUT THE WRITER
Amir Davis, 16, is an iGeneration Youth reporter living in Queens, N.Y.
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