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Episode
190

The National Rifle Association

Sep 3, 2021
Weird World
-
22
minutes
USA
Guns
Politics
US politics
Weird history
Ethics

It's one of the United States' most powerful advocacy groups and is a fierce defender of gun rights.

But it hasn't always been like this.

In this episode, we'll discover how it went from helping create gun control laws to becoming the most powerful pro-gun organisation in Washington D.C.

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Transcript

Alastair Budge: [00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the National Rifle Association, the NRA, the American pro-gun control organisation.

[00:00:35] It is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, and holds immense power over politicians. 

[00:00:43] You may well have heard of it, and seen its representatives on TV defending the right of Americans to bear arms, to carry guns.

[00:00:54] But you might not know that it wasn’t always so controversial, and it used to be a very different organisation to the one we see today.

[00:01:05] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about the origin of the NRA, where it came from and what it used to do, how it has developed over the years, how influential it has become, and how it continues to dominate the debate on gun ownership.

[00:01:26] Before we get right into today’s episode though, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:41] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 190 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:02:01] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:02:14] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:25] OK then, the National Rifle Association, the NRA.

[00:02:32] If you look on its website, nra.org, you will see that the NRA describes itself as “America's longest-standing civil rights organization. Together with our more than five million members, we're proud defenders of history's patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.”

[00:02:56] To clarify, the Second Amendment is the amendment to the United States Constitution, and protects the right to keep and bear arms

[00:03:07] Essentially, to own and carry a gun.

[00:03:11] This is what the NRA does now, but when it first got going, its purpose was very different.

[00:03:20] After the American Civil War, which finished in 1865, a small group of American soldiers got together. 

[00:03:29] They had noticed that lots of their soldiers were actually not very good at shooting, they weren’t very good at managing their guns and hitting their targets.

[00:03:42] Indeed, a Union Army general, Ambrose Burnside, complained that out of 1,000 shots that were fired by his men, only one hit a Confederate soldier.

[00:03:55] Put simply, the soldiers were rubbish with guns.

[00:04:00] Despite the civil war being over, they looked across the ocean to Europe, and saw the continuous wars that had plagued the continent. 

[00:04:11] The world was far from a peaceful place, and if there was to be similar violence again in the United States, or if the United States was invaded, then it would be a good thing to have people who knew how to use guns.

[00:04:28] Gun technology was improving, they were getting more accurate, and so with the right training, the US could be much better prepared if it needed to fight. 

[00:04:39] So, in 1871, the National Rifle Association was created.

[00:04:45] Its purpose? To train people how to use guns.

[00:04:49] It built a shooting range, a place where people could practise, and encouraged people to start their own rifle clubs.

[00:04:59] It’s important to note that at this time anybody could have a gun - the NRA existed to help people get better at using them, rather than to protect people’s rights to have them.

[00:05:13] And given that the world was going through a tumultuous period, a period of change, and America was about to enter into two world wars, having men who knew how to use guns was not a controversial idea at all. 

[00:05:29] Quite the opposite - it was considered to be very sensible.

[00:05:34] Indeed, until 1927 the US Department of War provided free ammunition, free bullets, for gun clubs. And the American President, Ulysses S Grant, was an early President of the NRA.

[00:05:52] In fact, in the early 1930s the NRA actually helped to introduce some of the first gun control laws in the US, when submachine guns, the really fast machine guns, and sawn-off shotguns, which were guns mainly used by gangsters, were banned.

[00:06:13] So, at this time the NRA was a far cry from what it is now. 

[00:06:19] Back then, it was actually helping the government to create laws to limit gun ownership. 

[00:06:25] Surprising, right?

[00:06:27] The NRA’s support for gun control continued into the 1960s, even partially supporting something called the Gun Control Act, which was passed in 1968.

[00:06:40] The 1960s had seen some high profile assassinations: John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, and there was a growing public feeling that more should be done to make it harder for people to get a gun because, well, a gun is a very effective way of killing someone.

[00:07:02] It was shortly after this bill, though, that the NRA morphed, it changed, into something very different.

[00:07:11] It went from being an organisation that supported gun use and gun training, with some limitations, to one that essentially vigorously opposed every restriction proposed against gun ownership.

[00:07:28] From the early 70s, it found an incredibly effective way of doing this, which it has been doing ever since.

[00:07:36] Political lobbying, so paying to try to influence the decisions of politicians and lawmakers.

[00:07:44] Since the NRA created its lobbying arm, its lobbying department, in 1971, it has constantly pushed legislators to relax, or rather avoid tightening, gun control laws.

[00:08:00] And it has been immensely successful. 

[00:08:04] Although there have been some temporary bans on gun control, US gun control laws are pretty similar to what they were after the Gun Control Act of 1968, more than 50 years ago.

[00:08:18] Since 1968, over one and a half million Americans have been killed by guns during “peacetime”. 

[00:08:25] That's more than the 1.2 million Americans who have been killed in every war in US history.

[00:08:33] Now, this isn’t to say that guns should or shouldn’t be banned or regulated, but it is amazing to think that there has been very little change in the gun laws despite these literally millions of deaths.

[00:08:49] Bringing us to the present day, and what the NRA has been doing for the past 50 years or so, it has continued its change from a relatively small organisation teaching people how to use guns to a huge, sprawling organisation with a reported more than 5 million members across the United States, with one in every 40 American adults a member.

[00:09:16] It relies on contributions from these members to support its work, but it also receives donations from gun manufacturers, and makes money from selling magazines, advertising and so on.

[00:09:31] Of course, if an organisation is funded by gun companies and people passionate about guns, well, it’s obvious what its policies are going to be on gun control.

[00:09:43] So, where does all this money go?

[00:09:46] Well, on doing everything it possibly can to promote gun usage and limit gun control in the United States.

[00:09:55] Broadly, this can be put into five main categories:

[00:10:00] Firstly, political lobbying

[00:10:02] The NRA is one of the most powerful interest-groups in Washington DC, and it works hard to persuade politicians to support gun rights at every level of government.

[00:10:16] Secondly, it supports political candidates who are pro-guns. 

[00:10:21] It supports them through donations, through telling its members to vote for them, and uses all the tools at its disposal to make sure politicians favourable to gun ownership are elected.

[00:10:36] And thirdly, on the flip side of this, it does everything it can to fight politicians who they believe to be anti-gun ownership. 

[00:10:46] From running negative adverts about them to telling their members how terrible they are, it fiercely fights candidates it believes to be anti-gun control.

[00:10:58] As an example of this, in the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Trump campaign was given $30 million by the NRA, $19 million of which went on attacking Hillary Clinton.

[00:11:16] The NRA even makes it very clear for people to see a politician’s view on gun control, and produces detailed scorecards about politicians, giving them a score for how much they support gun rights. 

[00:11:33] The fourth activity, which is really thousands of different activities rolled into one, is to do all sorts of what’s called grassroots campaigns supporting and encouraging the use of guns, from shooting clubs to sponsoring events. 

[00:11:51] This is really what it has always done, and has the effect of encouraging an interest in gun ownership, and ultimately, public support of the NRA.

[00:12:03] Now, the final main activity of the NRA could be described as being the public face of gun ownership and of controlling the media debate about guns.

[00:12:15] Whenever there is a public debate about guns in the US, the NRA makes sure that it is part of it, with its leaders staunchly defending the right to gun ownership.

[00:12:30] In the US, these debates tend to happen, tragically, after every mass shooting. 

[00:12:38] The NRA has a tried and tested formula for what to do after a mass shooting.

[00:12:46] It stays quiet for a little while, offers sympathy to the victims and their family, and condemns the actions of an evil killer.

[00:12:56] Then, when there are the obvious questions about “how did this person get a gun?”, and “could this tragedy have been avoided if there was more strict gun control?”, one of the NRA spokespeople goes on conservative TV defending guns.

[00:13:14] The defence normally follows the same arguments.

[00:13:19] Firstly, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and actually it is society with its violent video games, movies and rap music that should be blamed

[00:13:32] It points to countries like Switzerland, where around 1 in 4 people have a gun, yet the gun crime rate is tiny, it is very small.

[00:13:41] Secondly, they add that the right to carry a gun is enshrined in the US constitution - it’s something that is a God-given right, and should never be taken away.

[00:13:53] And finally, perhaps even grotesquely, that perhaps if more people had guns then this tragedy could have been averted, it could have been avoided.

[00:14:05] Here’s the boss of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, saying exactly that multiple times.

[00:14:13] Wayne LaPierre: [00:14:13] The only thing, only way, the best way, the surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun is a good woman with a gun.

[00:14:27] Good guys, carrying guns can and do, make a difference. The surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

[00:14:41] Alastair Budge: [00:14:41] And after a certain amount of time, the debate dies down, and America has to wait for its next mass shooting for it to be continued, when Wayne LaPierre, or another member of the NRA, will go on TV and say exactly the same thing.

[00:14:58] And while you might think that after a mass shooting there is a rise in anti-NRA and anti-gun sentiment, anti-gun feeling, in fact it’s completely the opposite.

[00:15:11] The NRA does such an excellent job at changing the argument that donations to it almost always increase after a mass shooting. 

[00:15:23] After the mass shooting at Parkland Florida, when 14 teenagers and 3 members of staff were killed by a 19-year-old man armed with a semi-automatic rifle, donations to the NRA tripled, they went up by three times.

[00:15:41] And it’s not just donations to the NRA. Whenever there is a mass shooting, in the period immediately afterwards gun sales go up.

[00:15:52] While one can only hazard a guess as to the reasons why this is, the fact that representatives of the NRA are all over the TV talking about how important it is to protect yourself with a gun must surely have a large impact.

[00:16:09] Now, to another factor that is the most significant driver both of NRA memberships and of gun sales.

[00:16:18] Who is in the White House.

[00:16:21] And while the NRA is most closely linked to the Republican party, a Republican President is actually, on one level, terrible news both for the NRA and for gun manufacturers, or at least, for the money they make.

[00:16:37] Yes, a Republican president is less likely to restrict gun ownership than a Democrat, but the result of this is that when a Republican is in the White House people don’t feel that anyone is coming for their guns, they feel that their guns are safe.

[00:16:55] And if you feel that your guns are safe, then you are less likely to feel like you need to donate to an organisation that protects them, and you are less likely to go out and buy more. 

[00:17:08] Strangely enough, given how many more guns were sold in America during his presidency, Barack Obama is often referred to as “the best gun salesman in America”.

[00:17:21] And on the other hand, when Donald Trump came to power, donations to the NRA dropped drastically, and the NRA has actually been battling bankruptcy.

[00:17:34] It hasn’t released its most recent financial accounts, but no doubt the arrival of Joe Biden to the White House has been very good news for the NRA’s bank balance.

[00:17:46] I should add that it has also been accused of abusing its status as a non-profit organisation, and its executive vice-president, Wayne LaPierre has been accused of spending millions of dollars of NRA money on fancy suits, holidays, haircuts, and all sorts of things that he shouldn’t have done.

[00:18:08] Now, the majority of listeners to this show come from countries where gun ownership is highly restricted, so the idea that you can have this incredibly powerful organisation that exists solely to stop restrictions on gun ownership probably seems a little strange, a little bizarre.

[00:18:31] It certainly does to me.

[00:18:33] But as we both know, gun ownership is a highly political, and polarising issue in the United States.

[00:18:41] A recent poll suggested that around 44% of Americans live in a household with a gun. 

[00:18:49] 53% of Americans say that they would support stricter gun laws, with Democrats being much more likely to support stricter gun laws than Republicans. 

[00:19:00] And Americans are divided over whether having fewer guns would lead to fewer mass shootings.

[00:19:08] 49% of adults say that there would be fewer mass shootings if it was harder for people to obtain guns legally, while 42% say this would make no difference and 9% say there would actually be more mass shootings if there were fewer guns. 

[00:19:28] I’m not quite sure what the argument of the 9% is, probably that people would commit fewer mass shootings if they were more afraid of being shot, which seems slightly tenuous to me, but there you go.

[00:19:42] The reality is that gun ownership is incredibly important to a large proportion of the American population. 

[00:19:50] It is literally in the Constitution, a document that Americans worship in an almost religious way.

[00:19:57] And the NRA is a fundamental part of that debate on gun ownership. 

[00:20:03] Like it or loathe it, it is hard to deny that it has done an incredibly effective job at promoting gun ownership, and portraying a gun not as a weapon, but as a symbol of American freedom.

[00:20:18] There are an estimated 390 million guns in the United States, more than one for every man, woman and child.

[00:20:28] And the NRA is going to make sure that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:20:36] OK then, that is it for today's episode on the National Rifle Association, the NRA, an organisation that might have started out with honourable, some might even say “defensive” ambitions, but is now quite a different beast.

[00:20:54] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:59] It’s obviously a hot topic, so what do you think about gun ownership, both in general, and in the US? What do you think of the NRA, and is there a similar type of organisation in your country?

[00:21:12] I would love to know.

[00:21:14] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:24] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:39] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:21:53] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:58] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:04] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

Alastair Budge: [00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the National Rifle Association, the NRA, the American pro-gun control organisation.

[00:00:35] It is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, and holds immense power over politicians. 

[00:00:43] You may well have heard of it, and seen its representatives on TV defending the right of Americans to bear arms, to carry guns.

[00:00:54] But you might not know that it wasn’t always so controversial, and it used to be a very different organisation to the one we see today.

[00:01:05] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about the origin of the NRA, where it came from and what it used to do, how it has developed over the years, how influential it has become, and how it continues to dominate the debate on gun ownership.

[00:01:26] Before we get right into today’s episode though, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:41] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 190 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:02:01] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:02:14] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:25] OK then, the National Rifle Association, the NRA.

[00:02:32] If you look on its website, nra.org, you will see that the NRA describes itself as “America's longest-standing civil rights organization. Together with our more than five million members, we're proud defenders of history's patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.”

[00:02:56] To clarify, the Second Amendment is the amendment to the United States Constitution, and protects the right to keep and bear arms

[00:03:07] Essentially, to own and carry a gun.

[00:03:11] This is what the NRA does now, but when it first got going, its purpose was very different.

[00:03:20] After the American Civil War, which finished in 1865, a small group of American soldiers got together. 

[00:03:29] They had noticed that lots of their soldiers were actually not very good at shooting, they weren’t very good at managing their guns and hitting their targets.

[00:03:42] Indeed, a Union Army general, Ambrose Burnside, complained that out of 1,000 shots that were fired by his men, only one hit a Confederate soldier.

[00:03:55] Put simply, the soldiers were rubbish with guns.

[00:04:00] Despite the civil war being over, they looked across the ocean to Europe, and saw the continuous wars that had plagued the continent. 

[00:04:11] The world was far from a peaceful place, and if there was to be similar violence again in the United States, or if the United States was invaded, then it would be a good thing to have people who knew how to use guns.

[00:04:28] Gun technology was improving, they were getting more accurate, and so with the right training, the US could be much better prepared if it needed to fight. 

[00:04:39] So, in 1871, the National Rifle Association was created.

[00:04:45] Its purpose? To train people how to use guns.

[00:04:49] It built a shooting range, a place where people could practise, and encouraged people to start their own rifle clubs.

[00:04:59] It’s important to note that at this time anybody could have a gun - the NRA existed to help people get better at using them, rather than to protect people’s rights to have them.

[00:05:13] And given that the world was going through a tumultuous period, a period of change, and America was about to enter into two world wars, having men who knew how to use guns was not a controversial idea at all. 

[00:05:29] Quite the opposite - it was considered to be very sensible.

[00:05:34] Indeed, until 1927 the US Department of War provided free ammunition, free bullets, for gun clubs. And the American President, Ulysses S Grant, was an early President of the NRA.

[00:05:52] In fact, in the early 1930s the NRA actually helped to introduce some of the first gun control laws in the US, when submachine guns, the really fast machine guns, and sawn-off shotguns, which were guns mainly used by gangsters, were banned.

[00:06:13] So, at this time the NRA was a far cry from what it is now. 

[00:06:19] Back then, it was actually helping the government to create laws to limit gun ownership. 

[00:06:25] Surprising, right?

[00:06:27] The NRA’s support for gun control continued into the 1960s, even partially supporting something called the Gun Control Act, which was passed in 1968.

[00:06:40] The 1960s had seen some high profile assassinations: John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, and there was a growing public feeling that more should be done to make it harder for people to get a gun because, well, a gun is a very effective way of killing someone.

[00:07:02] It was shortly after this bill, though, that the NRA morphed, it changed, into something very different.

[00:07:11] It went from being an organisation that supported gun use and gun training, with some limitations, to one that essentially vigorously opposed every restriction proposed against gun ownership.

[00:07:28] From the early 70s, it found an incredibly effective way of doing this, which it has been doing ever since.

[00:07:36] Political lobbying, so paying to try to influence the decisions of politicians and lawmakers.

[00:07:44] Since the NRA created its lobbying arm, its lobbying department, in 1971, it has constantly pushed legislators to relax, or rather avoid tightening, gun control laws.

[00:08:00] And it has been immensely successful. 

[00:08:04] Although there have been some temporary bans on gun control, US gun control laws are pretty similar to what they were after the Gun Control Act of 1968, more than 50 years ago.

[00:08:18] Since 1968, over one and a half million Americans have been killed by guns during “peacetime”. 

[00:08:25] That's more than the 1.2 million Americans who have been killed in every war in US history.

[00:08:33] Now, this isn’t to say that guns should or shouldn’t be banned or regulated, but it is amazing to think that there has been very little change in the gun laws despite these literally millions of deaths.

[00:08:49] Bringing us to the present day, and what the NRA has been doing for the past 50 years or so, it has continued its change from a relatively small organisation teaching people how to use guns to a huge, sprawling organisation with a reported more than 5 million members across the United States, with one in every 40 American adults a member.

[00:09:16] It relies on contributions from these members to support its work, but it also receives donations from gun manufacturers, and makes money from selling magazines, advertising and so on.

[00:09:31] Of course, if an organisation is funded by gun companies and people passionate about guns, well, it’s obvious what its policies are going to be on gun control.

[00:09:43] So, where does all this money go?

[00:09:46] Well, on doing everything it possibly can to promote gun usage and limit gun control in the United States.

[00:09:55] Broadly, this can be put into five main categories:

[00:10:00] Firstly, political lobbying

[00:10:02] The NRA is one of the most powerful interest-groups in Washington DC, and it works hard to persuade politicians to support gun rights at every level of government.

[00:10:16] Secondly, it supports political candidates who are pro-guns. 

[00:10:21] It supports them through donations, through telling its members to vote for them, and uses all the tools at its disposal to make sure politicians favourable to gun ownership are elected.

[00:10:36] And thirdly, on the flip side of this, it does everything it can to fight politicians who they believe to be anti-gun ownership. 

[00:10:46] From running negative adverts about them to telling their members how terrible they are, it fiercely fights candidates it believes to be anti-gun control.

[00:10:58] As an example of this, in the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Trump campaign was given $30 million by the NRA, $19 million of which went on attacking Hillary Clinton.

[00:11:16] The NRA even makes it very clear for people to see a politician’s view on gun control, and produces detailed scorecards about politicians, giving them a score for how much they support gun rights. 

[00:11:33] The fourth activity, which is really thousands of different activities rolled into one, is to do all sorts of what’s called grassroots campaigns supporting and encouraging the use of guns, from shooting clubs to sponsoring events. 

[00:11:51] This is really what it has always done, and has the effect of encouraging an interest in gun ownership, and ultimately, public support of the NRA.

[00:12:03] Now, the final main activity of the NRA could be described as being the public face of gun ownership and of controlling the media debate about guns.

[00:12:15] Whenever there is a public debate about guns in the US, the NRA makes sure that it is part of it, with its leaders staunchly defending the right to gun ownership.

[00:12:30] In the US, these debates tend to happen, tragically, after every mass shooting. 

[00:12:38] The NRA has a tried and tested formula for what to do after a mass shooting.

[00:12:46] It stays quiet for a little while, offers sympathy to the victims and their family, and condemns the actions of an evil killer.

[00:12:56] Then, when there are the obvious questions about “how did this person get a gun?”, and “could this tragedy have been avoided if there was more strict gun control?”, one of the NRA spokespeople goes on conservative TV defending guns.

[00:13:14] The defence normally follows the same arguments.

[00:13:19] Firstly, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and actually it is society with its violent video games, movies and rap music that should be blamed

[00:13:32] It points to countries like Switzerland, where around 1 in 4 people have a gun, yet the gun crime rate is tiny, it is very small.

[00:13:41] Secondly, they add that the right to carry a gun is enshrined in the US constitution - it’s something that is a God-given right, and should never be taken away.

[00:13:53] And finally, perhaps even grotesquely, that perhaps if more people had guns then this tragedy could have been averted, it could have been avoided.

[00:14:05] Here’s the boss of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, saying exactly that multiple times.

[00:14:13] Wayne LaPierre: [00:14:13] The only thing, only way, the best way, the surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun is a good woman with a gun.

[00:14:27] Good guys, carrying guns can and do, make a difference. The surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

[00:14:41] Alastair Budge: [00:14:41] And after a certain amount of time, the debate dies down, and America has to wait for its next mass shooting for it to be continued, when Wayne LaPierre, or another member of the NRA, will go on TV and say exactly the same thing.

[00:14:58] And while you might think that after a mass shooting there is a rise in anti-NRA and anti-gun sentiment, anti-gun feeling, in fact it’s completely the opposite.

[00:15:11] The NRA does such an excellent job at changing the argument that donations to it almost always increase after a mass shooting. 

[00:15:23] After the mass shooting at Parkland Florida, when 14 teenagers and 3 members of staff were killed by a 19-year-old man armed with a semi-automatic rifle, donations to the NRA tripled, they went up by three times.

[00:15:41] And it’s not just donations to the NRA. Whenever there is a mass shooting, in the period immediately afterwards gun sales go up.

[00:15:52] While one can only hazard a guess as to the reasons why this is, the fact that representatives of the NRA are all over the TV talking about how important it is to protect yourself with a gun must surely have a large impact.

[00:16:09] Now, to another factor that is the most significant driver both of NRA memberships and of gun sales.

[00:16:18] Who is in the White House.

[00:16:21] And while the NRA is most closely linked to the Republican party, a Republican President is actually, on one level, terrible news both for the NRA and for gun manufacturers, or at least, for the money they make.

[00:16:37] Yes, a Republican president is less likely to restrict gun ownership than a Democrat, but the result of this is that when a Republican is in the White House people don’t feel that anyone is coming for their guns, they feel that their guns are safe.

[00:16:55] And if you feel that your guns are safe, then you are less likely to feel like you need to donate to an organisation that protects them, and you are less likely to go out and buy more. 

[00:17:08] Strangely enough, given how many more guns were sold in America during his presidency, Barack Obama is often referred to as “the best gun salesman in America”.

[00:17:21] And on the other hand, when Donald Trump came to power, donations to the NRA dropped drastically, and the NRA has actually been battling bankruptcy.

[00:17:34] It hasn’t released its most recent financial accounts, but no doubt the arrival of Joe Biden to the White House has been very good news for the NRA’s bank balance.

[00:17:46] I should add that it has also been accused of abusing its status as a non-profit organisation, and its executive vice-president, Wayne LaPierre has been accused of spending millions of dollars of NRA money on fancy suits, holidays, haircuts, and all sorts of things that he shouldn’t have done.

[00:18:08] Now, the majority of listeners to this show come from countries where gun ownership is highly restricted, so the idea that you can have this incredibly powerful organisation that exists solely to stop restrictions on gun ownership probably seems a little strange, a little bizarre.

[00:18:31] It certainly does to me.

[00:18:33] But as we both know, gun ownership is a highly political, and polarising issue in the United States.

[00:18:41] A recent poll suggested that around 44% of Americans live in a household with a gun. 

[00:18:49] 53% of Americans say that they would support stricter gun laws, with Democrats being much more likely to support stricter gun laws than Republicans. 

[00:19:00] And Americans are divided over whether having fewer guns would lead to fewer mass shootings.

[00:19:08] 49% of adults say that there would be fewer mass shootings if it was harder for people to obtain guns legally, while 42% say this would make no difference and 9% say there would actually be more mass shootings if there were fewer guns. 

[00:19:28] I’m not quite sure what the argument of the 9% is, probably that people would commit fewer mass shootings if they were more afraid of being shot, which seems slightly tenuous to me, but there you go.

[00:19:42] The reality is that gun ownership is incredibly important to a large proportion of the American population. 

[00:19:50] It is literally in the Constitution, a document that Americans worship in an almost religious way.

[00:19:57] And the NRA is a fundamental part of that debate on gun ownership. 

[00:20:03] Like it or loathe it, it is hard to deny that it has done an incredibly effective job at promoting gun ownership, and portraying a gun not as a weapon, but as a symbol of American freedom.

[00:20:18] There are an estimated 390 million guns in the United States, more than one for every man, woman and child.

[00:20:28] And the NRA is going to make sure that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:20:36] OK then, that is it for today's episode on the National Rifle Association, the NRA, an organisation that might have started out with honourable, some might even say “defensive” ambitions, but is now quite a different beast.

[00:20:54] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:59] It’s obviously a hot topic, so what do you think about gun ownership, both in general, and in the US? What do you think of the NRA, and is there a similar type of organisation in your country?

[00:21:12] I would love to know.

[00:21:14] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:24] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:39] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:21:53] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:58] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:04] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Alastair Budge: [00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the National Rifle Association, the NRA, the American pro-gun control organisation.

[00:00:35] It is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, and holds immense power over politicians. 

[00:00:43] You may well have heard of it, and seen its representatives on TV defending the right of Americans to bear arms, to carry guns.

[00:00:54] But you might not know that it wasn’t always so controversial, and it used to be a very different organisation to the one we see today.

[00:01:05] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about the origin of the NRA, where it came from and what it used to do, how it has developed over the years, how influential it has become, and how it continues to dominate the debate on gun ownership.

[00:01:26] Before we get right into today’s episode though, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:41] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 190 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:02:01] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:02:14] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:25] OK then, the National Rifle Association, the NRA.

[00:02:32] If you look on its website, nra.org, you will see that the NRA describes itself as “America's longest-standing civil rights organization. Together with our more than five million members, we're proud defenders of history's patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.”

[00:02:56] To clarify, the Second Amendment is the amendment to the United States Constitution, and protects the right to keep and bear arms

[00:03:07] Essentially, to own and carry a gun.

[00:03:11] This is what the NRA does now, but when it first got going, its purpose was very different.

[00:03:20] After the American Civil War, which finished in 1865, a small group of American soldiers got together. 

[00:03:29] They had noticed that lots of their soldiers were actually not very good at shooting, they weren’t very good at managing their guns and hitting their targets.

[00:03:42] Indeed, a Union Army general, Ambrose Burnside, complained that out of 1,000 shots that were fired by his men, only one hit a Confederate soldier.

[00:03:55] Put simply, the soldiers were rubbish with guns.

[00:04:00] Despite the civil war being over, they looked across the ocean to Europe, and saw the continuous wars that had plagued the continent. 

[00:04:11] The world was far from a peaceful place, and if there was to be similar violence again in the United States, or if the United States was invaded, then it would be a good thing to have people who knew how to use guns.

[00:04:28] Gun technology was improving, they were getting more accurate, and so with the right training, the US could be much better prepared if it needed to fight. 

[00:04:39] So, in 1871, the National Rifle Association was created.

[00:04:45] Its purpose? To train people how to use guns.

[00:04:49] It built a shooting range, a place where people could practise, and encouraged people to start their own rifle clubs.

[00:04:59] It’s important to note that at this time anybody could have a gun - the NRA existed to help people get better at using them, rather than to protect people’s rights to have them.

[00:05:13] And given that the world was going through a tumultuous period, a period of change, and America was about to enter into two world wars, having men who knew how to use guns was not a controversial idea at all. 

[00:05:29] Quite the opposite - it was considered to be very sensible.

[00:05:34] Indeed, until 1927 the US Department of War provided free ammunition, free bullets, for gun clubs. And the American President, Ulysses S Grant, was an early President of the NRA.

[00:05:52] In fact, in the early 1930s the NRA actually helped to introduce some of the first gun control laws in the US, when submachine guns, the really fast machine guns, and sawn-off shotguns, which were guns mainly used by gangsters, were banned.

[00:06:13] So, at this time the NRA was a far cry from what it is now. 

[00:06:19] Back then, it was actually helping the government to create laws to limit gun ownership. 

[00:06:25] Surprising, right?

[00:06:27] The NRA’s support for gun control continued into the 1960s, even partially supporting something called the Gun Control Act, which was passed in 1968.

[00:06:40] The 1960s had seen some high profile assassinations: John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, and there was a growing public feeling that more should be done to make it harder for people to get a gun because, well, a gun is a very effective way of killing someone.

[00:07:02] It was shortly after this bill, though, that the NRA morphed, it changed, into something very different.

[00:07:11] It went from being an organisation that supported gun use and gun training, with some limitations, to one that essentially vigorously opposed every restriction proposed against gun ownership.

[00:07:28] From the early 70s, it found an incredibly effective way of doing this, which it has been doing ever since.

[00:07:36] Political lobbying, so paying to try to influence the decisions of politicians and lawmakers.

[00:07:44] Since the NRA created its lobbying arm, its lobbying department, in 1971, it has constantly pushed legislators to relax, or rather avoid tightening, gun control laws.

[00:08:00] And it has been immensely successful. 

[00:08:04] Although there have been some temporary bans on gun control, US gun control laws are pretty similar to what they were after the Gun Control Act of 1968, more than 50 years ago.

[00:08:18] Since 1968, over one and a half million Americans have been killed by guns during “peacetime”. 

[00:08:25] That's more than the 1.2 million Americans who have been killed in every war in US history.

[00:08:33] Now, this isn’t to say that guns should or shouldn’t be banned or regulated, but it is amazing to think that there has been very little change in the gun laws despite these literally millions of deaths.

[00:08:49] Bringing us to the present day, and what the NRA has been doing for the past 50 years or so, it has continued its change from a relatively small organisation teaching people how to use guns to a huge, sprawling organisation with a reported more than 5 million members across the United States, with one in every 40 American adults a member.

[00:09:16] It relies on contributions from these members to support its work, but it also receives donations from gun manufacturers, and makes money from selling magazines, advertising and so on.

[00:09:31] Of course, if an organisation is funded by gun companies and people passionate about guns, well, it’s obvious what its policies are going to be on gun control.

[00:09:43] So, where does all this money go?

[00:09:46] Well, on doing everything it possibly can to promote gun usage and limit gun control in the United States.

[00:09:55] Broadly, this can be put into five main categories:

[00:10:00] Firstly, political lobbying

[00:10:02] The NRA is one of the most powerful interest-groups in Washington DC, and it works hard to persuade politicians to support gun rights at every level of government.

[00:10:16] Secondly, it supports political candidates who are pro-guns. 

[00:10:21] It supports them through donations, through telling its members to vote for them, and uses all the tools at its disposal to make sure politicians favourable to gun ownership are elected.

[00:10:36] And thirdly, on the flip side of this, it does everything it can to fight politicians who they believe to be anti-gun ownership. 

[00:10:46] From running negative adverts about them to telling their members how terrible they are, it fiercely fights candidates it believes to be anti-gun control.

[00:10:58] As an example of this, in the 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Trump campaign was given $30 million by the NRA, $19 million of which went on attacking Hillary Clinton.

[00:11:16] The NRA even makes it very clear for people to see a politician’s view on gun control, and produces detailed scorecards about politicians, giving them a score for how much they support gun rights. 

[00:11:33] The fourth activity, which is really thousands of different activities rolled into one, is to do all sorts of what’s called grassroots campaigns supporting and encouraging the use of guns, from shooting clubs to sponsoring events. 

[00:11:51] This is really what it has always done, and has the effect of encouraging an interest in gun ownership, and ultimately, public support of the NRA.

[00:12:03] Now, the final main activity of the NRA could be described as being the public face of gun ownership and of controlling the media debate about guns.

[00:12:15] Whenever there is a public debate about guns in the US, the NRA makes sure that it is part of it, with its leaders staunchly defending the right to gun ownership.

[00:12:30] In the US, these debates tend to happen, tragically, after every mass shooting. 

[00:12:38] The NRA has a tried and tested formula for what to do after a mass shooting.

[00:12:46] It stays quiet for a little while, offers sympathy to the victims and their family, and condemns the actions of an evil killer.

[00:12:56] Then, when there are the obvious questions about “how did this person get a gun?”, and “could this tragedy have been avoided if there was more strict gun control?”, one of the NRA spokespeople goes on conservative TV defending guns.

[00:13:14] The defence normally follows the same arguments.

[00:13:19] Firstly, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and actually it is society with its violent video games, movies and rap music that should be blamed

[00:13:32] It points to countries like Switzerland, where around 1 in 4 people have a gun, yet the gun crime rate is tiny, it is very small.

[00:13:41] Secondly, they add that the right to carry a gun is enshrined in the US constitution - it’s something that is a God-given right, and should never be taken away.

[00:13:53] And finally, perhaps even grotesquely, that perhaps if more people had guns then this tragedy could have been averted, it could have been avoided.

[00:14:05] Here’s the boss of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, saying exactly that multiple times.

[00:14:13] Wayne LaPierre: [00:14:13] The only thing, only way, the best way, the surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun is a good woman with a gun.

[00:14:27] Good guys, carrying guns can and do, make a difference. The surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

[00:14:41] Alastair Budge: [00:14:41] And after a certain amount of time, the debate dies down, and America has to wait for its next mass shooting for it to be continued, when Wayne LaPierre, or another member of the NRA, will go on TV and say exactly the same thing.

[00:14:58] And while you might think that after a mass shooting there is a rise in anti-NRA and anti-gun sentiment, anti-gun feeling, in fact it’s completely the opposite.

[00:15:11] The NRA does such an excellent job at changing the argument that donations to it almost always increase after a mass shooting. 

[00:15:23] After the mass shooting at Parkland Florida, when 14 teenagers and 3 members of staff were killed by a 19-year-old man armed with a semi-automatic rifle, donations to the NRA tripled, they went up by three times.

[00:15:41] And it’s not just donations to the NRA. Whenever there is a mass shooting, in the period immediately afterwards gun sales go up.

[00:15:52] While one can only hazard a guess as to the reasons why this is, the fact that representatives of the NRA are all over the TV talking about how important it is to protect yourself with a gun must surely have a large impact.

[00:16:09] Now, to another factor that is the most significant driver both of NRA memberships and of gun sales.

[00:16:18] Who is in the White House.

[00:16:21] And while the NRA is most closely linked to the Republican party, a Republican President is actually, on one level, terrible news both for the NRA and for gun manufacturers, or at least, for the money they make.

[00:16:37] Yes, a Republican president is less likely to restrict gun ownership than a Democrat, but the result of this is that when a Republican is in the White House people don’t feel that anyone is coming for their guns, they feel that their guns are safe.

[00:16:55] And if you feel that your guns are safe, then you are less likely to feel like you need to donate to an organisation that protects them, and you are less likely to go out and buy more. 

[00:17:08] Strangely enough, given how many more guns were sold in America during his presidency, Barack Obama is often referred to as “the best gun salesman in America”.

[00:17:21] And on the other hand, when Donald Trump came to power, donations to the NRA dropped drastically, and the NRA has actually been battling bankruptcy.

[00:17:34] It hasn’t released its most recent financial accounts, but no doubt the arrival of Joe Biden to the White House has been very good news for the NRA’s bank balance.

[00:17:46] I should add that it has also been accused of abusing its status as a non-profit organisation, and its executive vice-president, Wayne LaPierre has been accused of spending millions of dollars of NRA money on fancy suits, holidays, haircuts, and all sorts of things that he shouldn’t have done.

[00:18:08] Now, the majority of listeners to this show come from countries where gun ownership is highly restricted, so the idea that you can have this incredibly powerful organisation that exists solely to stop restrictions on gun ownership probably seems a little strange, a little bizarre.

[00:18:31] It certainly does to me.

[00:18:33] But as we both know, gun ownership is a highly political, and polarising issue in the United States.

[00:18:41] A recent poll suggested that around 44% of Americans live in a household with a gun. 

[00:18:49] 53% of Americans say that they would support stricter gun laws, with Democrats being much more likely to support stricter gun laws than Republicans. 

[00:19:00] And Americans are divided over whether having fewer guns would lead to fewer mass shootings.

[00:19:08] 49% of adults say that there would be fewer mass shootings if it was harder for people to obtain guns legally, while 42% say this would make no difference and 9% say there would actually be more mass shootings if there were fewer guns. 

[00:19:28] I’m not quite sure what the argument of the 9% is, probably that people would commit fewer mass shootings if they were more afraid of being shot, which seems slightly tenuous to me, but there you go.

[00:19:42] The reality is that gun ownership is incredibly important to a large proportion of the American population. 

[00:19:50] It is literally in the Constitution, a document that Americans worship in an almost religious way.

[00:19:57] And the NRA is a fundamental part of that debate on gun ownership. 

[00:20:03] Like it or loathe it, it is hard to deny that it has done an incredibly effective job at promoting gun ownership, and portraying a gun not as a weapon, but as a symbol of American freedom.

[00:20:18] There are an estimated 390 million guns in the United States, more than one for every man, woman and child.

[00:20:28] And the NRA is going to make sure that they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

[00:20:36] OK then, that is it for today's episode on the National Rifle Association, the NRA, an organisation that might have started out with honourable, some might even say “defensive” ambitions, but is now quite a different beast.

[00:20:54] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:59] It’s obviously a hot topic, so what do you think about gun ownership, both in general, and in the US? What do you think of the NRA, and is there a similar type of organisation in your country?

[00:21:12] I would love to know.

[00:21:14] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:24] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:39] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:21:53] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:58] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:04] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]