With the calendar turning to 2021, your National Rifle Association of America is celebrating a milestone anniversary. For 150 years, the NRA has been a national service organization dedicated to advancing marksmanship, as well as the country’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights. As we recognize NRA’s sesquicentennial year, let’s take a look back at how we started.
NRA was chartered in 1871 in New York by a group of National Guard officers with firsthand knowledge of the decline of American marksmanship during the Civil War. Led by Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate, their goal was to improve the state of marksmanship training in the country.
Not long after NRA’s inception, the search for a range began, eventually finding Creed’s Farm on Long Island—deeded to the National Rifle Association for the price of $26,250. What became known as “Creedmoor Range” became one of the most famous venues in shooting history. The first formal matches at Creedmoor in 1873 were widely anticipated, with throngs of enthusiastic spectators gathering to witness NRA’s hosting of historical shooting events. Rifle tournaments at Creedmoor, and subsequently at ranges located at Sea Girt, N.J., Camp Perry, Ohio, and Camp Atterbury, Ind., captured the country’s spirit of nationalism and resulted in key improvements in rifles and target scoring.
By the early 20th century, NRA had grown into a national association that set the standards for military rifle training. That training has saved countless American lives on battlefields around the world. The NRA’s high standards for military rifle training even inspired the federal government to form an adjunct within the War Department to focus on promoting rifle practice among soldiers and civilians alike.
In 1903, NRA Secretary Albert S. Jones urged the establishment of rifle clubs at all major colleges, universities and military academies. Three years later, the NRA youth program was in full swing, with over 200 youth shooters at Sea Girt that summer. Youth shooting programs remain a cornerstone of the NRA.
After World War II, the NRA, in conjunction with the state of New York, established the first hunter education program. NRA hunter education courses are now taught by state fish and game departments across the country and Canada—helping to make hunting one of the safest sports around.
As the NRA continued to evolve, expanding its safety and educational programs to meet the needs of an ever-changing America, some of the nation’s most celebrated leaders, including Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George C. Marshall and John F. Kennedy, praised the NRA’s inexhaustible efforts to train Americans in firearms safety and marksmanship.
The tradition of marksmanship instruction continues, thanks to thousands of NRA members working tirelessly as instructors, training counselors, coaches and volunteers. Without their support, the majority of programs that the NRA offers would not be possible.
The NRA today—propelled by its legion of members and volunteers—continues to offer educational programs for hunters, marksmen, military, law enforcement, women and youth. These programs, found at nrainstructors.org, underscore a vital commitment to keeping America safe and free. As we look ahead to the future, here’s to another 150 years of continuing the traditions upon which the Association was founded.