New York State Attorney General Letitia James today announced the state’s intention to dissolve the National Rifle Association (NRA). Founded in Manhattan nearly 150 years ago with a New York state charter, the NRA rose from a group of riflemen to a national power thanks to a 1873 rifle-shooting tournament in the future New York City borough of Queens.
The NRA’s 1871 start was inspired by a long-range rifle-shooting tournament that was hosted by England’s National Rifle Association in the London village of Wimbledon.
On September 28, 1871, 19 days before New York granted its charter to the NRA, the New York Times reported of the NRA plans under the headline “The New Rifle Club.” The Times concluded, “To carry off the prize of marksmanship from a field of skilled contestants would be a triumph that any gentleman might justly be proud of. Perhaps before many years, we shall have our American Wimbledon.”
In 1873, four years before Wimbledon would commence its now-famed tennis championship, Ireland won the Wimbledon rifle tournament. That June, the American NRA formally opened its first rifle range facility, on Queens farmland. Queens would become a New York City borough in 1898.
Named Creedmoor for the Creed family that had owned the farmland and the moor-like condition of the grounds when the NRA took over, the association’s 70-acre Queens Village property was, according to the NRA’s website, purchased “with financial help from New York State.” During the week following the opening, Army and Navy Journal reported, “no rifle association in the world, so far as we know, can claim ownership of a range better.”
To determine a “world” champion, the Irish team issued a challenge for a match against the American NRA. The Americans accepted. With ample promotion by the New York Herald — guided by the newspaper’s publisher, an NRA member — the event was held at the Creedmoor range on September 26, 1874, with targets placed 800, 900 and 1,000 yards away from the rifleman position.
Nearly 8,000 spectators arrived at Creedmoor on event day. After hours of a close match in hot weather, the Irish led, 931-930. The American NRA’s John Bodine prepared to step forward to take the last shot.
To quench his thirst, Bodine accepted a bottle of ginger beer from another competitor. The heat caused the bottle to explode, leaving substantial cuts in Bodine’s right hand. He refused help from a British rifleman who had been an Army surgeon, and self-bandaged his bloody hand with a handkerchief.
A bullseye shot would garner four points and the win for the Americans. NRA co-founder George Wingate later wrote, “Every one of thousands of pairs of eyes present at once shifted from the man to the target, a little post a half mile off. When the spat of bullet on the iron target was heard, it was followed by a roar from the crowd. ‘He’s on,’ and then came slowly into sight a large white disk which showed the bullseye had been made, and the match won by the American team. Pandemonium broke loose, and the sky was darkened with hats that were thrown into the air.”
Bodine had used a type of Remington rifle that became universally known as a Creedmoor rifle. Proclaims Greater New York investigative reporter Frank Smyth in his 2020 book, The NRA: The Unauthorized History, “The victory over the Irish, the reigning Wimbledon champion, put Creedmoor on the map and marked the real emergence of the American NRA.”
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