- Historic Sites
“God Guns & Guts Made America Free”
The National Rifle Association and the Right to Bear Arms
February/March 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 2
Carter’s rise to power began in 1971, the association’s centennial year, when Executive Vice President Maxwell Rich began to speak of a “National Shooting Center” and the need to keep pace “with a changing world.” Also that year, NRA President Woodson D. Scott, a New York attorney, suggested that NRA headquarters might well be moved to avoid “adverse conditions in Washington.” One condition cited as adverse to the NRA was the high cost of competing with federal wage scales. Other conditions were left unstated, but everyone knew what they were, especially after an NRA lobbyist was fatally wounded by a thug with a gun and a staff editor was twice assaulted by armed thieves. After that, the NRA administration of Maxwell Rich couldn’t get out of Washington fast enough, and plans were prepared to move the headquarters staff west to Colorado Springs. The Springs would be convenient to Raton, New Mexico, where the NRA would soon purchase 37,700 acres and draw up a master plan for its projected $30,000,000 National Center. The “Shooting” Center? No, that word had been changed to “Outdoor.” There would still be shooting, all right, but there would also be programs in conservation and wilderness survival.
Guns & Ammo , meanwhile, had uncovered a startling bit of news. In its April, 1975, issue, Washington correspondent C. E. Clay ton revealed that “high officials” of the NRA were “considering a plan that would license every gun owner in the country. What’s more the proposal would apparently have the NRA be the federal government’s official ‘licenser.’ ” Maxwell Rich later conceded that such a proposal had indeed been circulated at NRA headquarters, but that it “definitely was not presented to the NRA Board of Directors.…”
With their confidence shaken in the Rich administration, some NRA members began to question the proposed activities at Raton and Colorado Springs. The Outdoor Center at Raton, it was said, might well become a haven for “bird watchers” and “butterfly netters.” And the move to Colorado Springs was seen as a ploy to dilute the effectiveness of Harlon Carter’s Washington-oriented Institute for Legislative Action.
These were the issues, then, as more than two thousand NRA members crowded into the Cincinnati Convention-Exposition Center for the association’s annual meeting. Only life members were entitled to vote. They voted to oust Maxwell Rich. They voted to oust most of Rich’s management team. They voted a one-year suspension of further spending on the Raton Outdoor Center. They voted to block the new headquarters at Colorado Springs. And with their voices rising to the rafters, they voted Harlon B. Carter into the most powerful post of the American gunnery.
Camp Perry is a National Guard facility located on the shore of Lake Erie northwest of Port Clinton, Ohio. It is a flat and rather monotonous piece of property, about six hundred acres all told, and is doubtless remembered with mixed feelings by thousands of Italian and German veterans who, relieved of their Mannlicher-Carcanos and Mausers at Anzio and other such places, were posted there as prisoners to sit out World War II. Camp Perry was discovered, after a fashion, in 1905, by General Ammon Critchfield of the Ohio National Guard, who was shooting ducks in a marsh when it occurred to him that, with a little landfill, one also might shoot at targets. The Ohio legislature agreed and appropriated twenty-five thousand dollars to purchase the first three hundred acres. Critchfield immediately informed the National Rifle Association that a splendid new shooting range would be available for the national matches of 1907. Drainage, of course, would be a problem. But the general was confident. “We’ll get the camp so dry,” he said, “the bullfrogs will have to carry canteens.”