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The Origin of the NRA
The National Rifle Association was first chartered in the state of New York on November 17, 1871 by Army and Navy Journal editor William Conant Church and General George Wood Wingate. Its first president was Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, who had worked as a Rhode Island gunsmith, and Wingate was the original secretary of the organization. Church succeeded Burnside as president in the following year.
Union Army records for the Civil War indicate that its troops fired about 1,000 rifle shots for each Confederate soldier 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.
Recognizing a need for better training, Wingate traveled to Europe and observed European armies’ marksmanship training programs. With plans provided by Wingate, the New York Legislature funded the construction of a modern range at Creedmore, Long Island, for long-range shooting competitions. Wingate then wrote a marksmanship manual.
After winning the British Empire championship at Wimbledon, London, in 1874, 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 weaponsfor 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.
Eight U.S. Presidents have been NRA members. They are Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.