This story was originally published in January 2013
A schism within the National Rifle Association resulted in a coup at the group’s 1977 annual meeting at the Cincinnati Convention Center and focused the NRA’s mission on gun rights protection.
The incident is known as the Cincinnati uprising. A group of reformers, led by former NRA President Harlon Carter and outspoken gun rights attorney Neal Knox, built tension within the organization over leadership’s wavering stance on gun control.
About 30,000 delegates attended the annual meeting on May 21, 1977. The reformers wore bright orange hunting hats and communicated on a walkie-talkie on the convention site. The NRAleaders turned off the air conditioning to discourage them.
The controversial meeting lasted until 4 a.m. A 1,000-member vote for life ousted the NRA’s chief agent, Executive Vice President Maxwell Rich, and his friends. Carter was selected as Rich’s replacement.
This was more than a changing of the guard; It was a change of purpose.
The NRA has existed since 1871 and has historically focused on sport shooting and gun safety. It was only after the 1968 Guns Act was passed in response to turmoil and assassinations in the 1960s that the NRA became truly political.
Still, the NRA was primarily intended for athletes, and Rich even testified before Congress to support a ban on cheap handguns known as Saturday Night Specials. Then the inner quarrel began.
In 1975 the NRA founded the Institute for Legislative Action, a lobbying group led by Carter, which received little funding. The NRA board genuinely hoped to tone down the policy to attract donors like the Ford Foundation to help fund a $ 27 million conservation and recreation center in Raton, New Mexico. They also voted to move their headquarters to Colorado Springs, Colorado, away from Washington, DC politics
The conflict culminated in the 1977 revolt.
“There will be no more civil war within the National Rifle Association,” Carter was quoted as saying in The Enquirer after the meeting. He called the conflict a “staff disagreement. It ended the hour I took office.”
Under Carter’s leadership, the NRA developed into a powerful political force. She took an uncompromising position in defense of the second amendment, which is often controversial. The number of members rose from 1.2 million to more than 4 million today.
The NRA continues to fight doggedly against gun control legislation, including recent proposals following the shooting last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The strength and political position of the NRA were born that night in Cincinnati.