The NRA: The Unauthorized History

Flatiron: Macmillan. Mar. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781250210289. $28.99. HIST
Journalist Smyth debuts with a balanced history of the National Rifle Association (NRA), staring with its founding by former soldiers George Wood Wingate and William Conant Church after the Civil War as an organization dedicated to marksmanship. Smyth shows how the association was initially supportive of gun control, rifle training, and conservation up until the 1970s, until pivotal movements—including the “Cincinnati Revolt” of 1977 along with gun advocate (and convicted murderer) Harlon Carter assuming leadership of the association—led to its rapid transformation into a politically conservative, Republican-controlled lobbying organization. Notably, Smyth describes how the NRA developed enough political clout to counter popular gun control laws and deflect public outrage after mass shootings. He also covers the tenures of NRA leaders such as Marion Hammer, the first woman to hold the position of NRA president, and CEO Wayne LaPierre. The author, a gun owner and a supporter of gun control, thoroughly documents the NRA’s internal debates, tortuous efforts to rewrite its public image and history, and recent efforts to recruit celebrity advocates.
VERDICT The book is meticulously detailed, sometimes overly so, including investigations into the NRA’s internal debates and parliamentary process. Still, libraries looking for a nonpartisan history of the organization will be well-served.

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