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NRA chief: Why we fight for gun rights

By David Keene, Special to CNN
updated 7:45 AM EST, Fri February 1, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Keene: The NRA evolved to become a defender of the Second Amendment
  • Keene: Obama administration tried to demonize NRA and cow gun owners
  • He says instead, gun owners are energized to rally for their constitutionally protected rights
  • Keene: Law-abiding Americans are entitled to own firearms and protect their families

Editor's note: David Keene is president of the National Rifle Association of America. Join Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta, Jeffrey Toobin and Jack Gray at noon in a live Google Hangout at AC360.com. Send questions and thoughts via #gundebate360 on Twitter and Google+.

(CNN) -- After President Lyndon Johnson signed the Gun Control Act of 1968, many anti-gun politicians looked forward to the day when they could completely ban the sale and ownership of firearms and perhaps even confiscate those already in private hands.

After the draconian legislation imposed restrictions on "dealing" firearms that resulted in the prosecution of countless innocent gun collectors, and recordkeeping on ammunition sales so useless that federal law enforcement agencies supported their repeal, Sen. Ted Kennedy wrote to the NRA to demand our support for a national gun licensing and registration system. A few years later, a Nixon administration advisory commission proposed that all side arms be outlawed and confiscated in about a decade.

That didn't happen. Those hostile to firearms ownership and the Second Amendment thought they were on the verge of victory, but had in fact managed to wake up millions of Americans who hadn't previously believed that government would ever threaten their guns or their way of life. They were joined by others who were not necessarily gun owners but believed the Second Amendment and the rights it guaranteed a free people worth preserving.

Opinion: Americans, even NRA members, want gun reforms

The NRA was founded in 1871, but until the passage of the 1968 legislation had never been much involved in politics and didn't even have a lobbying office. That changed as the men and women the organization represented demanded that the NRA step up to defend their rights in the frenzy of the late 1960s.

David Keene
David Keene

Within a few years, many of those who had so fervently believed that the public would welcome their sponsorship of "gun control" were defeated and before long Republicans and Democrats in Congress joined forces to pass the "Firearms Owners Protection Act" of 1986 that rolled back many of the restrictions adopted in 1968.

Since that time, the NRA has continued to devote more than 85% of its resources to its traditional mission of providing civilian firearms training, teaching firearms safety and working to introduce new generations of Americans to the shooting sports, but has taken on the added role of protector of the right of law-abiding Americans to own and enjoy firearms.

That role has become especially important as some, unfortunately, have sought to exploit December's incomprehensible murders in Newtown, Connecticut, to impose further restrictions on honest people.

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The organization's political strength rests on the bipartisan and diverse make-up of its membership and of the millions of nonmember firearms owners who look to the NRA for leadership and their willingness to step up to the plate and the ballot box when their rights are threatened.

Opinion: Gun makers, help keep weapons out of criminals' hands

It is that second attribute of Second Amendment supporters that has surprised the president and his allies. The Obama administration has attempted to demonize the NRA and cow gun owners into accepting restrictions that they know won't make anyone safer but which will interfere with a citizen's ability to acquire, keep and rely on firearms to protect their families or participate in the shooting sports.

Among those proposals are "universal" background checks that will never be "universal" because criminals won't submit to them, and magazine bans that will put the law-abiding at a disadvantage against multiple attackers. The president also backs a new ban on "assault weapons," even though Christopher Koper, the researcher who studied the last ban for the Justice Department concluded that it caused "no discernible reduction in the lethality or injuriousness of gun violence" and did not contribute to the general drop in crime in the 1990s.

But gun owners have been energized rather than cowed. They are presenting a truly united front as they rally to fight for their constitutionally guaranteed rights.

NRA president: Focus on mentally ill
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Opinion: A father's murder, a plea on gun control

Anyone who doubts this need only look at what happened in the literally bankrupt city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, last week. The organizers of the largest outdoor show in the country, the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, announced that they would not allow the display or presence of the firearms the president likes to demonize as assault weapons. Within days, more than 300 vendors withdrew in protest as the NRA and others urged Second Amendment supporters to boycott the event.

Soon after, show organizers announced it was being postponed indefinitely. This was the largest outdoor show in the country. It draws a huge crowd every year and according to local estimates, about $80 million won't be arriving in the pockets and coffers of the pro-Bloomberg, anti-gun mayor of Harrisburg now.

As the battle over restricting Second Amendment rights continues, other elected officials under pressure from the Obama administration to ignore the feelings and deep beliefs of some of their constituents will learn a similar lesson.

Hundreds of self-proclaimed gun advocates didn't believe Obama was anti-gun based on his first term and wrote the NRA saying we were using scare tactics to have our way: Now they know.

Opinion: Gun extremists' alternate reality

Second Amendment supporters are in no mood to give those who would deny them their rights a pass and will vote in the next election in the same united way they responded to the insult leveled at them by the organizers of the Harrisburg show.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Keene.

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

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