Yesterday I slid my renewed NRA membership card into my wallet. As the red-white-and-blue rectangle of plastic snugged up against my NSSF press card and ragged old Hunter’s Education card, it hit me: 15+ years of membership, and only now am I forced to defend my decision to support the NRA. Over 15 years and I find myself battling not the antis but those supposedly on my side of the fight.
I am the NRA. Here’s why.
When I was a kid the monthly arrival of the NRA’s American Rifleman was met with little fanfare. My parents were card-carrying members of the NRA not because they owned guns or hunted, but because they felt supporting the Second Amendment was among their conservative duties. The magazine was only noticed by little tow-headed me, who also perused old copies of Outdoor Life and Field & Stream whenever I visited my best friend (her dad also introduced me to Patrick McManus and I truly mourned when both her dad and Patrick passed this past year). You see, my parents were big on the appearance of duty, but dismally short on follow-through.
Fortunately, I have enough bull-headed stubbornness and tenacity for an entire village, so although my gun life didn’t begin until my late teens, you could say it’s evolved in a manner that would make Darwin jealous.
Gather ‘round for a history lesson. The NRA was founded in 1871 by a couple of Union vets disappointed by their troops’ marksmanship. Ironically, the organization was officially formed thanks to the granting of a charter by none other than the state of New York.
During World War II NRA members reloaded ammo to keep the men guarding war plants armed and ready; in 1949 they turned their sights on hunting, establishing the original hunter’s education program. In 1975 the NRA-ILA was formed for lobbying purposes. Although connected, the Institute for Legislative Action is a separate organization from the NRA and exemplifies a granite commitment to fighting for gun rights for law-abiding gun owners. Then, in 1990, the tax-exempt 501(c)3 NRA Foundation was created to facilitate continuing to educate and train the general public. There are many facets to the NRA but all are tied to one purpose: your gun rights.
From their inception the NRA has promoted and taught firearm safety. Whether through the four golden rules or the Eddie Eagle program, they invariably put safety first. In fact, I used Eddie Eagle while teaching my own daughter about guns.
They’re an organization built on a foundation of training and education, both of which continue to hold prominent places in their day-to-day functions. More than 1,000,000 gun owners are trained by over 125,000 NRA-certified instructors annually.
Yes, the NRA is the first and greatest line of defense against those who would destroy our Second Amendment rights. Thanks to the NRA, dozens of states have passed right-to-carry laws. Hundreds of legislative victories from the last decade alone can be directly attributed to their efforts. Looking beyond a decade those hundreds become thousands. Then there are the 21+ emergency-powers laws they’ve pushed through to protect gun owners’ rights in the wake of emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina, dozens of range protection, gun dealer, and Castle Doctrine laws, and state-level bills, too.
But wait, there’s more. The NRA also files lawsuits to fight Second Amendment violations such as California’s ammo sale restrictions and the recent “assault weapon” ban in Deerfield, Illinois. They’re in the trenches while the average gun owner is, what, drinking coffee and bitching via cell phone: “Something’s wrong on the internet!”? (You’re doing it right now, admit it.)
Back when the NRA-ILA was new, it was headed by Harlon Carter, a man who’d been head of Border Patrol during the 1950s. He retired in 1985 but not before ascending to executive vice president and saying the group should and would become “so strong and so dedicated that no politician in America, mindful of his political career, would want to challenge our legitimate goals.” Carter epitomized a fighting spirit that’s died an acrid, wheezing death among thousands of modern-day gun owners.
Who do you think facilitates greater change, the NRA and NRA-ILA or the gun owner who can’t even be bothered to attend a rally?
The NRA gives law-abiding gun owners a voice. Today there are more than five million NRA members and although they do represent their members, the NRA supports all legal gun owners. Just because you aren’t a member doesn’t mean you aren’t represented. There is, quite simply, no other organization in the gun world with the NRA’s recognition and visibility.
Do I agree with everything the NRA does? No. In the last year alone I’ve been irritated as hell by their oh-so-carefully-worded support of bump stock regulation and the wildly ham-handed introduction of Carry Guard. And yes, part of me bristles when their ads blip onto my radar via social media emblazoned with alarming banners such as “Choose to Fight or Surrender Your Guns.”
But then reality overrides my concerns over the use of apparent scare tactics.
The Line in the Sand
It would seem the NRA is finally drawing a line in the sand for gun rights. The strongly-worded ads and impassioned soliloquies from spokespeople such as Dana Loesch and Colion Noir aren’t overreactions, they’re right. For too long we as a community have played the game of giving an inch, and damned if the left hasn’t taken ten miles.
Here’s the thing. If you aren’t fighting for gun rights, you’re part of the problem. Wanting to enjoy your guns without putting any effort into their existence is lazy and feckless. Furthermore, saying you own guns but don’t think people should own ARs is traitorous to the heart of the Second Amendment.
Yesterday I was talking to one of my best friends, veterinarian and seasoned hunter Kurt Hallgren, about the NRA. He offered this as his reason for membership:
The NRA is the most well-known and powerful group that stands up for my right to bear arms, hunt, and protect myself and my loved ones. I choose to support people and organizations that support me and my interests. I’m also a member of the USCCA and NAGR; hopefully my support and others’ [support] will ensure I always have the ability to protect myself with a firearm.
Oh, and Kurt’s a Life Member.
I am the NRA. A single mother, longtime gun owner, dedicated hunter, and concealed carrier. My guns have protected not only me but my daughter; without my guns I likely would not be sitting here writing this. I might not agree with everything the NRA does but I do support them. They work hard to steer legislation in my favor and the least I can do is back them.
When was the last time you did something to actively support gun rights? Do you attend rallies? Write letters to your senator? Make phone calls? Are you a member of the NRA?
It’s time to stop bickering like indolent children. It’s time to grow a pair and take action. You do not have to like everything the NRA does to admit their existence does more to protect our Second Amendment rights than any other organization or person in this country. If kvetching on social media and in comment sections is the extent of your efforts to further gun rights, you’re part of the problem. Take a mature, reasoned look at the reality of the NRA and get yourself a membership. I dare you.