“What we have to do is communicate with gun owners and let them know what’s going on—and let them know in absolute terms the truth ….” –Jim Norell in a Gun Week interview, May 13, 1977.
NRA has lost one of its greatest communicators with the sudden passing of James O. E. Norell. Norell passed while vacationing in Chincoteague, Va., on Sept. 25, 2017. He was 74 years old.
For more than four decades, Norell crafted many of the compelling arguments on behalf of NRA leadership that motivated millions of NRA members to continue their staunch defense of their constitutional Right to Keep and Bear Arms—often successfully reaching out to and converting those who held opposing beliefs about gun ownership. As the first Director of Communications for NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, Norell was once considered the voice in Washington when it came to public dissemination of NRA’s message. Thanks to his stalwart support of the Second Amendment, NRA-ILA continues to act as American gun owners’ primary voice for opposing anti-gun legislation in defense of our civil rights.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, “Jim Norell spent a lifetime in service to our Second Amendment freedom. He fought throughout his lifetime with words that made an immeasurable difference—words that defended firearms in the hands of good, law abiding, patriotic Americans. His words helped change the course of American history. He was a good friend and patriot. God bless him. I’m going to miss him.”
Norell was on staff when some of the most fearsome legislative battles to affect gun owners came to the forefront, most notably the 1986 Firearm Owner’s Protection Act (FOPA), which revised many of the provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968. In NRA: An American Legend, Norell says, “The McClure-Volkmer Law was undoubtedly ILA’s finest moment. It fixed some things that had no business being in any sort of criminal law. McClure-Volkmer happened because of the way the law had been abused by federal officials. It couldn’t have been done otherwise—and the truth won out.”
Former NRA President Jim Porter said Norell played a huge role in this fight and many others with his clear, concise and thoughtful writings on the Second Amendment and gun rights. “I know of no one who stood taller among pro-gun journalists than Jim Norell. Jim was a dear friend and a trusted advisor and speech writer.”
As head of NRA-ILA’s communications channel, Norell was charged with the difficult task of dissecting complex subject matters and delivering them to an antagonistic media. Former NRA-ILA attorney Dave Hardy, who worked side by side with Norell on FOPA, said, “Like this country, ILA had its founding fathers. Jim was one of that handful, and as often as not, its brains. He was our Thomas Paine, the man who could reduce a complex issue to a few common-sense sentences that no one could deny.”
One of Norell’s biggest accomplishments, Hardy says, was the widespread dissemination of a newsletter from Washington called “Reports From Washington,” a timely advocacy journal that kept NRA Members abreast of issues affecting their Second Amendment rights.
Norell is also credited with producing the hard-hitting NRA documentary It Can’t Happen Here, which revealed stories about the lives and livelihoods that had been ruined by the Gun Control Act and its abusive enforcement. The production aired on dozens of U.S. television stations, garnering particular interest in Washington, D.C.
NRA Publications Executive Director Doug Hamlin says that Norell had an enormous impact on the strategic communications direction of the organization. “NRA has lost a very powerful voice and greatly respected freedom fighter.”
NRA Immediate Past President Allan Cors said, “Jim was a very talented man and a key player in protecting the NRA and our freedom.”
Prior to his tenure at NRA-ILA, Norell worked as a journalist for various newspapers, including the Washington Star, before becoming press secretary to Idaho Senator James McClure. After his NRA-ILA service, Norell went on to work at Legal Services Corporation. Norell was an avid hunter, gun collector and fisherman. He was an NRA Benefactor member, and was a member of NRA's Public Affairs Committee. Norell also has many award-winning screenwriting and filmography credits to his name. He appeared regularly on American Rifleman TV as a subject matter expert on certain firearms.
James O.E. Norell was born on April 12, 1943, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Wilma H. Norell and James A. Norell, a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army who served in World War II and was stationed at locations worldwide. Norell most recently lived in rural Three Springs, Pa. His wife, Nancy, preceded him in death in 2012. He is survived by a brother, Michael, of Three Springs, Pa.; a daughter, Kjersti Sivitilli and son-in-law Rob Sivitilli of Palm Beach, Fla.; and a godson, Hans Schneider, of Austin, Texas.