The NRA is many things to many people. To its detractors, the NRA is a lobbying juggernaut that unduly influences gun control politics. To its supporters, the NRA is a staunch defender of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But the NRA was not originally established as a political organization nor does the organization see politics as its singular mission.
A group of U.S. Army officers founded the NRA in 1871 to "promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis." The officers were appalled by the shooting performance of the average Union recruit in the just concluded Civil War and they wanted American men, especially those who lived in the big cities of the Northeast and Midwest, to improve their marksmanship. To achieve their goal, the officers founded the NRA, built a rifle range on Long Island, and started holding competitions.
From its founding, one of the NRA's most important missions has been to improve the firearms prowess of Americans who may be called to serve their country in the armed forces. And since 1960, the organization has also helped train another kind of warrior: the law enforcement officer.
Actually, the NRA's leadership began to concern themselves with the firearms training standards for law enforcement officers as far back as 1916. That's when an article in the organization's magazine Arms and the Man (now American Rifleman) pointed out that American police officers did not receive enough and often not any firearms training. The article written by Frank J. Kahrs proposed that officers receive a systematic program of firearms instruction and monthly range training.
Kahrs' idea was not immediately embraced by the law enforcement community. Four years later an NRA study looked at 25,000 American police agencies and found that only three had formal firearms training.
But the NRA kept pushing the idea. It set up a state-of-the-art police range in Ohio. And by 1925, it had convinced the Los Angeles Police Department to offer incentives for firearms training. Officers who shot expert on the departmental range received an extra $12.50 per month in compensation.
The NRA even established a police section at its headquarters. It also began working to improve police training not only in firearms but also in defensive tactics and even arrest and control techniques. Eventually, however, the organization decided that it could provide more assistance for officers if it focused solely on firearms training.
In 1960, the NRA changed its law enforcement firearms training strategy. The NRA's leadership decided that the best way to reach individual officers was to provide better training for police firearms instructors and let them take what they learned back to their students. This was such a fundamental change in the NRA's approach to police firearms training that it now considers the year 1960 to be the birth date of its police training programs.
Another reason that the NRA marks 1960 as a watershed event is that it was the year the organization started sanctioning training courses and qualification programs in local agencies. And for the last 50 years, the NRA has been fine-tuning its law enforcement programs.
Since 1960, the NRA's Law Enforcement Firearm Instructor Training program has graduated 50,000 firearms instructors. The program is now also open to military instructors, which brings the organization full circle from its roots.
Today, the NRA continues to offer law enforcement officers nationwide opportunities to improve their firearms instruction skills and overall firearms efficiency. In addition, the NRA's Law Enforcement Division organizes and sponsors the annual National Police Shooting Championships, which are now held in Albuquerque, N.M. (The Championships were relocated from Jackson, Miss., in 2005 because of Hurricane Katrina.)
Beyond training law enforcement firearms instructors and officers, the NRA has also partnered with law enforcement to promote gun safety. Since 2008, the NRA's Eddie Eagle Gunsafe program has been part of the organization's Law Enforcement Division.