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You are correct. For most of its existence, the NRA was concerned only with gun safety and training, but that all changed in 1968, when the Gun Control Act was passed. In 1977, a man named Harlan Carter was elected as the NRA Executive Vice President, and the organization took a hard turn to the right.
Carter's 1977 election as NRA Executive Vice President marked a turning point for the organization from promoting marksmanship and sports shooting towards advocacy for less restrictive gun laws. Under Carter's leadership, from 1977 to 1985, the NRA became less compromising on gun rights issues. It also tripled its membership and gained considerable political influence.
Another major turning point came in 1980,due to the actions of then-President Jimmy Carter. Although well-intentioned, President Carter appointed Abner Mikva, a strong proponent of gun control, to a Federal judgeship. In addition, Carter also openly supported the Alaska Lands Bill, which closed off 40,000,000 acres of Alaska to hunting. That’s roughly 10% of the total land area of Alaska, and it’s also roughly the same area as the State of Kentucky.
In response to Carter’s actions, the NRA (for the first time in its history) endorsed a political candidate, Three days before the 1980 election the NRA endorsed Ronald Reagan (who had received the California Rifle and Pistol Association’s Outstanding Public Service) over Carter. Although the NRA probably didn’t have a huge influence on this election, the fact remains that the main character in “Bedtime for Bonzo” carried 44 states, and the incumbent President only carried 6, plus the District of Columbia.
As the article below points out, I am NOT a fan of Wayne Lapierre, but he actually did us all a favor by preventing Oliver North from taking over control of the organization.
Not all the board members of the NRA are crazy people, but (as far as I know) Ted Nugent is still on the board. If Oliver North had won his battle to oust Wayne Lapierre, the organization would very quickly become even more extreme than it is today.
Financially, the NRA IS hurting. For the second year in a row, the NRA has spent more than it has taken in, and income in 2017 was a sharp drop from its 2016 income.