cover image The NRA: The Unauthorized History

The NRA: The Unauthorized History

Frank Smyth. Flatiron, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-21028-9

Journalist Smyth debuts with a balanced and accessible history of the National Rifle Association. Both a gun owner and a supporter of gun control measures, Smyth critiques the modern NRA’s “absolutist” stances against gun control, but is primarily interested in tracing the organization’s evolution from a Reconstruction-era group in New York City interested in militia preparedness to its early-20th-century emergence as a national organization focused on educating sportsmen about marksmanship and gun safety. Smyth reveals that the NRA had a long history of supporting state and federal gun control measures, including those aimed at limiting access to firearms for convicted felons, people connected to organized crime, and political radicals. Beginning in the late 1960s, however, the NRA started delving into partisan politics, increasingly aligning itself with the Republican Party. Smyth points to the organization’s 1977 annual meeting in Cincinnati, when strident anti–gun control activists Harlon Carter and Neal Knox orchestrated a series of votes that installed Carter in the top leadership post, as the first step in the remaking of the NRA into a well-funded lobbying organization with the political clout to weather public outrage over Columbine, Sandy Hook, and other mass shootings. Smyth chronicles the NRA’s internal debates with painstaking detail, though the organization’s secrecy prevents jaw-dropping revelations. Readers tired of partisanship on both sides of the gun control debate will appreciate this straightforward overview. (Mar.)