“Your Fight Has Become Our Fight”

A brief history of the NRA’s transformation from a gunowners’ group to the voice of the gun industry.

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Plus: How the National Rifle Association sold its grassroots firepower to the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, and conservative donors.

1967 The NRA declares it “is not affiliated with any manufacturer of arms or ammunition.”
1977

A 1975 NRA ad appeals to hunters; a 1993 ad features a photo of goose-stepping Nazis and warns of a coming “police state.”

Hardliners oust NRA leadership for going soft on gun rights. New president Harlon Carter turns the group into a political powerhouse.

1982 Sturm Ruger, Smith & Wesson, and other gun companies help fund the NRA’s $5 million drive to defeat California’s “handgun freeze” proposition.
1991 The NRA asks 16 gun makers for input on whether it should start a satellite TV channel to present “our truthful unbiased story.” Manufacturers are enthusiastic.
1999
chalton heston

NRA president Charlton Heston delivers his “cold, dead hands” speech, 2003. Preston MacUMAPress

NRA president Charlton Heston tells gun manufacturers facing product liability lawsuits: “Your fight has become our fight. Your legal threat is our constitutional threat,” even if “others are going to say we’ve become what they’ve always thought—a shill for the industry.”

2000 The NRA organizes a boycott of Smith & Wesson after the gun maker works with the Clinton administration to make safer guns in exchange for legal immunity. Taurus firearms offers a free NRA membership to all customers, bringing in more than 40,000 members over the next 12 years.
2004 The NRA helps block renewal of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban. Rifle production jumps 75 percent in the following seven years.
2005
remington ad

Remington and other gun makers offer free NRA memberships to customers. Remington

Congress passes the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which blocks product liability suits against gun makers and sellers—a shield no other industry enjoys. The NRA launches its Ring of Freedom campaign to enlist corporate partners. By 2011, about 50 gun companies sign up, raising as much as $38 million. Beretta USA and ammo maker MidwayUSA kick in more than $1 million each.

2007
nra convention

Rocking out with her Glock bag out at the NRA convention Les Stone/ZUMAPress

The NRA thanks Glock for signing up 10,000 of its customers as new members.

2008 Beretta pledges $1 million to the NRA over the next five years.
2011
friends of NRA

Friends of NRA host Jessie Duff visits handgun maker Taurus Friends of NRA

Friends of NRA launches on the Outdoor Channel; episodes include visits to gun companies such as Winchester, Barrett, and Taurus. Ruger promises the NRA $1 for every weapon it sells in a year. It ends up donating $1.2 million. Gun industry and other corporate donations to the NRA total more than $59 million.

 
2012 MidwayUSA donates $1 million to the NRA; Smith & Wesson donates more than $1 million.
2013 The CEO of the Freedom Group, maker of the AR-15 rifle, is nominated to run for the NRA board of directors. The NRA’s Eddie Eagle gun safety website declares the group is “not affiliated with any firearm or ammunition manufacturers.”

As NRA rhetoric has ramped up, so have gun sales (as measured by the number of federal firearm background checks.)

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This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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