NRA & BSA: 100 Years of Partnership

posted on November 19, 2010

Painting by Joseph Csatari. Courtesy of Winchester, via Martha’s Ammo & Collectibles,

In February 1910, American publishing magnate William D. Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America in Washington, D.C., and since then, millions of boys around the country have grown into men following the ideals of scouting. The story often told is that Boyce was lost in the pea-soup-like fog of London and an unknown Scout helped him find his way. The lad then refused a tip from Boyce saying that he was a Scout, and he was just doing what was expected of him. Intrigued, Boyce sought out more information on the organization founded in 1907 by British Maj. Gen. Robert Baden-Powell, and upon his return from overseas travels, incorporated the Boy Scouts of America. The rest is, as they say, history.

From the start of Scouting, the shooting sports figured prominently. “Marksman” was one of the first 14 Badges of Merit (later termed Merit Badges) offered in the original 1910 Scout Handbook. From that humble beginning, NRA and the BSA have forged a century-old relationship that is stronger today than at any time in the past.

All was not as cozy as it would seem, however, at the start of this fledgling movement. An ongoing rivalry between Boyce and fellow publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst threatened the organization from the beginning.

Only four months after Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), Hearst incorporated the American Boy Scouts (ABS) in New York. Immediately both groups vied to attract boys to their membership by promoting character building, outdoor skills, patriotism and good citizenship. Both groups adopted uniforms strikingly similar to those worn by the U.S. Army at the time. Nonetheless, the ABS had a decidedly military flair to its programs and even endorsed a Remington Rolling Block 4S rifle in .22 Short that was marked “American Boy Scout,” complete with a ridiculously dull bayonet made of pot metal.

The BSA’s Chief Scout Executive, James E. West, had serious reservations about Scouts learning military and marksmanship skills and tried to distance his group from the ABS by emphasizing that the BSA was not a paramilitary group. He suspended and withdrew the Marksmanship merit badge from the list of badges Scouts could earn and desperately tried to gain public approval for his organization by stressing the fact that, like most Americans at the time, the group was not hawkish nor was it a training ground for future induction into military service.

He successfully mounted a Federal court campaign that forced the ABS to change its name twice and prevented it from receiving a Federal Charter, which lead to its eventual dissolution. In West’s zeal to mainstream his BSA, however, he went too far in proclaiming their non-military role in a boy’s development. He angered BSA board member Gen. Leonard Wood (a Medal of Honor recipient) to the point of his resigning his seat on the BSA’s Board. This brought about a sternly worded admonishment to West from BSA Chief Scout Citizen—former U.S. President and NRA Life member Theodore Roosevelt. By then, the Great War included the United States on the side of the Allies, and there would be no further talk of the BSA not preparing the youth of the country for whatever duties might be asked of them. After intense lobbying from the NRA, Marksmanship was returned to the merit badge rolls and has remained there, in one form or another, ever since. It was the BSA’s need for certified trainers that led to the establishment of NRA Instructor programs.

Of the millions of boys who have proudly worn the BSA uniform, uncounted numbers (including these authors and the editor-in-chief of this magazine) were given the opportunity to handle and shoot their first guns during Scouting-sponsored events. NRA training counselors, certified instructors and range safety officers today provide safe and educational environments for Scouts to learn firearm safety and be introduced into the shooting sports at hundreds of BSA summer camps and range-day activities. The NRA Foundation has provided 1,468 grants totaling $4.9 million to local Scout councils, camps and troops to acquire training materials and equipment and to establish camp range programs across the country. NRA staffers participate in the National Jamborees to provide tens of thousands of Scouts an opportunity to experience firearm use and learn how to safely handle and care for firearms.

NRA headquarters staffers serve on BSA committees, and BSA staffers serve on NRA committees in an effort to establish close ties and maintain a high level of training and program requirements. This helps bring each Scout a safe experience through a uniform program of instruction and qualified instructors.

This past summer 46,000 Boy Scouts, leaders and staff descended upon Fort A.P. Hill, Va., for 10 days, and NRA was there in force to ensure that they had a meaningful and safe first experience with numerous types of firearms. It was the 17th National Scout Jamboree since 1937 and the eighth—and last—to be held at Fort A.P. Hill, which became the 14th largest community in the entire state of Virginia during the event.

NRA headquarters staff and volunteer NRA Certified Instructors from all across the country volunteered to help the BSA run and manage the many shooting-sports related activity areas. At the Jamboree, Scouts could complete most requirements for the Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting merit badges as well as shoot blackpowder rifles, air rifles, shotguns on the trap range, air rifles on a BMX “Bikathon” course and steel targets in the “OK Corral” set up in the Venturing Program Area. New to the Jamboree this year was Camp Thunder, an activity area where scouts experienced the thrill of shooting 12-gauge shotguns in a modified 5-Stand Sporting Clays event.

The Merit Badge Midway has been a staple at nearly every Jamboree, and Scouts had an opportunity to meet experts in more than 100 different Merit Badge fields and earn badges they may not otherwise have had an opportunity to earn at home. NRA Training Counselors and Certified Instructors worked with up to 80 Scouts a day to help them complete the classroom sections of both Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting Merit Badges. Some energetic and determined Scouts managed to complete the requirements for Shotgun Shooting and went home with one of the hardest merit badges to acquire at the Jamboree.

NRA and BSA have enjoyed a tremendous relationship since 1910, with millions of boys and leaders having been members of both venerable institutions. The future of the relationship continues to be bright as NRA staffers assist in the development of shooting sports programs at the new National Scout Jamboree site, The Summit: Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve near Beckley, W.V. We hope to see you there in 2013, and until then, be safe and keep your powder dry.


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