The popular view of the NRA, no matter whether one supports or opposes the G-d-given right (or indeed a duty) to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the 2nd, 9th and 10th Amendments to the Constitution, is that it is a staunch and consistent defender of these rights.
Let’s see what the story behind the story is. The NRA was founded in 1871 by Union veterans to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis” as a result of the poor marksmanship of the North during the War. The NRA’s long recorded history of promoting gun control appears to have begun with its helping to draft and promote the Uniform Firearms Act of 1930, which was adopted by 9 states. Interestingly, this NRA law was successfully challenged in courts as being unconstitutional. The NRA also supported one of the very first and most important federal gun control measures, the National Firearms Act of 1934. NRA continued its support for gun control by supporting the Federal Firearms Act of 1938. (I am using the term “gun control” as shorthand for any measures, including legislation, that would control the people by infringing upon their individual rights to keep and bear arms.)
The NRA’s support for more and more gun control continued in spite of the opposition by many of its members. That opposition resulted in a major change of leadership in 1977, with the NRA becoming a powerful advocate of the right to keep and bear arms. While the NRA has retained that image ever since, by the mid-1980s, the NRA by and large became what it remains to this today -- ostensibly a gun rights champion while in practice ... Well, I’ll just let the NRA tell you themselves:
“The National Rifle Association has been in support of workable, enforceable gun control legislation since its very inception in 1871.” “The truth is, NRA supports many gun laws, including federal and state laws ... . NRA has also assisted in writing [both federal and state] gun laws ... .”
Some of the ways the NRA promotes gun control include the drafting, supporting and/or silence with respect to new gun control, supporting the continuation and even expansion of existing gun control, introduction or support of slightly less onerous alternatives to new gun control, allowing or even supporting gun control amendments to otherwise pro-gun rights legislation and other quid pro quo tactics, supporting pro- gun control candidates, and supporting other measures that expand the reach and powers of the Federal government.
These “compromises” continue to this very day. Not only is the NRA supporting a vast expansion of the Federal government’s role with respect to education and local law enforcement, it continues to support gun control while also flip-flopping.
In 1999, the NRA publicly and explicitly endorsed a number of “reasonable restrictions on gun ownership,” including the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act. What makes this particularly interesting is that the 1999 NRA endorsement of the Act came only 4 years after the Supreme Court overturned the original Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 (à la NRA’s drafting of and support for the Uniform Firearms Act of 1930 which was also struck down by the courts). (Congress, under Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich, passed the current version of the Gun-Free School Zones Act as requested by Clinton/Reno in an end run around the Supreme Court decision.) Moreover, the NRA is currently endorsing the expansion of gun control by the Federal government.
Thus, it should be clear that criticism of the NRA is not restricted solely to hoplophobes and that there are indeed gun rights anti-NRA folks. As for whose side the NRA is really on, I will leave that up to the reader.