SOME FOUR decades ago, as a seventh-grader in upstate Idaho, I participated in a basic hunting-safety program the National Rifle Association offered at our school. I carried my NRA safe-hunter card in my wallet all through high school — and with it, my impression of the NRA as an avuncular group dedicated to the outdoors and to safe, courteous, sportsmanlike hunting.
Which is what it was back then. As recent stories in the Washington Post and Salon have recounted, for most of its history, the NRA was a mainstream organization that promoted marksmanship, conservation, and hunting. After the headline-grabbing shoot-outs involving heavily armed, Prohibition-era gangsters like Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Bonnie and Clyde, the NRA even helped the FDR administration to pass the nation’s first gun-control laws, in 1934 and 1938. Decades later, it deemed the gun-control act of 1968 something “the sportsmen of America can live with.”