What is the NRA and where is its annual meeting?

Gun Rights

The National Rifle Association (NRA) was founded in 1871 by a group of ex-US Army officers who were aghast at the exceedingly poor marksmanship of soldiers who fought for the United States during the American Civil War.

The group chose as its first president a former US army general, Ambrose Burnside. Other ex-generals would also serve as president, including former president Ulysses Grant and General Philip Sheridan.

What is the NRA’s history?

The group’s stated mission at its founding was to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis” and for the next 100 years or so, marksmanship and the promotion of sport shooting remained the group’s focus. The US government even partnered with the NRA on an official Civilian Marksmanship Program that still exists today.

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But nearly a century of nonpartisan advocacy ended in the 1970s when the group’s politics took a hard turn to the right and began aligning itself with the Republican Party.

The newly partisan NRA recruited members at gun shows and political conventions, and promoted itself not as a sporting organisation, but as a lobbying group which protected members against a supposedly tyrannical government intent on taking their firearms away. By the 1990s it was one of the largest financial supporters of Republicans, and was credited by then-president Bill Clinton with helping the GOP take control of the House of Representatives in the 1994 midterm elections.

When Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves in April 1999, the sport shooting and marksmanship organisation turned gun rights group opened its’ convention in Denver, Colorado, just miles from the scene of the massacre.

Where is the NRA’s annual meeting being held?

Twenty-three years and 336 school shootings later, the association’s yearly confab will kick off in Houston on Friday just days after a gunman took the lives of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

The group’s annual meeting is traditionally a hotbed of right-wing activism where Republican office-seekers and elected officials go to pledge their fealty to an interpretation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution which holds that ensuring that Americans’ right to “keep and bear arms” allows them to carry pistols in as many places as possible and own the same types of weapons used in the Uvalde massacre and others like it without restriction.

And while the modern NRA is known largely for being a powerful lobbying group which has spent millions to elect Republicans and defeat Democrats — or anyone else — who supports background checks for firearm purchases, using federal funding to study gun violence, or allowing the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to keep computerised records, the group’s roots were decidedly non-political.

It was also a major financial supporter of Republicans — including Donald Trump — in the 2016 election, but the group’s fundraising and visibility has taken a hit in recent years due to a bankruptcy filing brought on by lawsuits from its former public relations firm and New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Despite Ms James’ efforts revealing allegations of self-dealing by the group’s longtime executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, he remains firmly in charge of the NRA. And just like he did in 1999, he is keeping the convention on schedule and is set to speak on Friday.

Asked about the propriety of NRA’s decision to go ahead with the convention despite the Uvalde shooting, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said what was “inappropriate” was how NRA leaders have “proven time and time again, that they are contributing to the problem of gun violence and not trying to solve it”.

“They represent the interests of the gun industry, the gun manufacturers, who are marketing weapons of war to young adults. They don’t represent gun owners who know that we need to take action,” she said. “And it’s shameful that the NRA and their allies have stood in the way of every attempt to advance measures … that we all know will save lives from gun violence, measures that we know would keep weapons of war out of the hands of people who are terrorizing our community”.

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