16 November 1871

The National Rifle Association receives its charter from New York State.

The National Rifle Association of America is an American nonprofit organization that advocates for gun rights. Founded in 1871, the group has informed its members about firearm-related legislation since 1934, and it has directly lobbied for and against firearms legislation since 1975.

Founded to advance rifle marksmanship, the modern NRA continues to teach firearm safety and competency. The organization also publishes several magazines and sponsors competitive marksmanship events. According to the NRA, it has 6 million members as of May 2018.

Observers and lawmakers see the NRA as one of the top three most influential lobbying groups in Washington, DC The NRA Institute for Legislative Action is its lobbying arm, which manages its political action committee, the Political Victory Fund. Over its history the organization has influenced legislation, participated in or initiated lawsuits, and endorsed or opposed various candidates at local, state and federal levels.

The NRA has been criticized by gun control and gun rights advocacy groups, political commentators, and politicians. The organization has been the focus of intense criticism in the aftermath of high profile shootings, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

A few months after the Civil War started in 1861, a national rifle association was proposed by Americans in England. In a letter that was sent to President Lincoln and appeared in the New York Times, R.G. Moulton and R.B. Perry recommended forming an organization similar to the British National Rifle Association, which had formed a year and a half earlier. They suggested making a shooting range, perhaps on the base on Staten Island, and were offering Whitworth rifles for prizes for the first shooting competition with those rifles. They suggested a provisional committee to start the Association which would include: President Lincoln, Secretary of War, officers, and other prominent New Yorkers.

The National Rifle Association was first chartered in the State of New York on November 16, 1871 by Army and Navy Journal editor William Conant Church and Captain George Wood Wingate. On November 25, 1871, the group voted to elect its first corporate officers. Union Army Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, who had worked as a Rhode Island gunsmith, was elected president. When Burnside resigned on August 1, 1872, Church succeeded him as president.

Union Army records for the Civil War indicate that its troops fired about 1,000 rifle shots for each Confederate hit, causing General Burnside to lament his recruits: “Out of ten soldiers who are perfect in drill and the manual of arms, only one knows the purpose of the sights on his gun or can hit the broad side of a barn.” The generals attributed this to the use of volley tactics, devised for earlier, less accurate smoothbore muskets.

Ambrose Burnside, Union Army general, Governor of Rhode Island, and first president of the NRA
Recognizing a need for better training, Wingate sent emissaries to Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany to observe militia and armies’ marksmanship training programs. With plans provided by Wingate, the New York Legislature funded the construction of a modern range at Creedmoor, Long Island, for long-range shooting competitions. The range officially opened on June 21, 1873. The Central Railroad of Long Island established a railway station nearby, with trains running from Hunter’s Point, with connecting boat service to 34th Street and the East River, allowing access from New York City.

After beating England and Scotland to win the Elcho Shield in 1873 at Wimbledon, then a village outside London, the Irish Rifle Team issued a challenge through the New York Herald to riflemen of the United States to raise a team for a long-range match to determine an Anglo-American championship. The NRA organized a team through a subsidiary amateur rifle club. Remington Arms and Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company produced breech-loading weapons for the team. Although muzzle-loading rifles had long been considered more accurate, eight American riflemen won the match firing breech-loading rifles. Publicity of the event generated by the New York Herald helped to establish breech-loading firearms as suitable for military marksmanship training, and promoted the NRA to national prominence.