Studying the NRA
Some readers who directly experienced or grew up in areas frequently affected by gun violence may argue that I have missed the point by paying relatively little attention to these tragedies. Likewise, other readers who grew up hunting and share the NRA's gun rights politics may contend that I am an outsider and therefore cannot begin to understand the gun culture. Although I do not believe that researchers can be entirely objective about the people and groups we study—my experiences affect my views like any other person or researcher—I do believe that we can minimize biases that may result from our experiences. To conduct a more balanced critical analysis of the NRA, I joined the organization at the start of this project in 2001. Becoming an NRA member enabled me to interact with and interview other members as a fellow member, negating much of the well-documented NRA member suspicion of academics, reporters, and other outsiders.1 I believe that my interview data provide an insider's account of the NRA, which is complemented by my own outsider background.
Joining the NRA also enabled me to gain access to current organizational materials, such as magazines and fundraising letters, and to attend NRA annual meetings. I chose to study the organization and its leaders without informing NRA officials of my study, relying instead on their materials and speeches. I particularly wanted to study NRA members, because they have been largely neglected in the research literature.
I designed a study that would examine the NRA within a socio-historical context, analyzing their changing rhetoric, ideology, and politics over time. Although the NRA dates to 1871, this book examines the organization beginning in 1940 and continuing into the new millennium.