“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.

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.”

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.
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.
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.

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.
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.)


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.