23 Aug 2014
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Connecticut Man Was a Founder of the NRA

General Alexander Shaler of Haddam, Civil War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, was one of the founders and an early president of the National Rifle Association.

Connecticut Man Was a Founder of the NRA


There's a part of lower Haddam known as "Shailerville." Variously spelled "Shailer," "Shaler," "Shailor," and "Shaylor," the family had a huge impact on Haddam's development as well as the development of other towns in Middlesex County, such as Portland, where Nathaniel Shailer of Haddam founded the first brownstone quarry there in 1788. The Shaler family's impact, however, was not confined to Connecticut.

Gen. Alexander Shaler, for example, became an influential, highly decorated war hero during the Civil War. Shaler, who died 101 years ago this week on Dec. 28, 1911, received the Medal of Honor for his bravery at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. Shaler led a New York regiment as his parents had relocated inland to New York state around 1840 after a member of the Shaler family had been lost at sea. Mrs. Ira Shaler wanted none of her 10 children to risk being lost at sea.

The move served to advance the career of her eighth child, Alexander. Besides being a war hero, Alexander Shaler later became fire commissioner and president of the New York City Fire Department. Shaler completely reorganized the fire department and made it the "best drilled and most efficient fire department in the world."

While he was serving as the head of the NYC fire department, Shaler also became a founder of the NRA. The National Rifle Association was clearly a byproduct of the Civil War. Shaler, always concerned with efficiency throughout his life, was appalled with the overall inefficiency of shooting during the Civil War and wanted to improve it.

Other Civil War veterans shared that concern. Army records for the Civil War showed that it took 1,000 rifle shots for every Confederate soldier hit during battle. In fact, the NRA's first president, Civil War Gen. Ambrose Burnside, himself a former Rhode Island gunsmith, had this to say about Civil War shooting inefficiency: "Out of ten soldiers who are perfect in drill ... only one knows the purpose of the sights on his gun or can hit the broad side of a barn."

Organized on Nov. 17, 1871, the NRA sought to improve the overall marksmanship of the population in case the country had to go to war again. It sponsored rifle clubs and shooting contests throughout the country for that purpose. Several Civil War generals took turns serving as its president. Gen. George Wood Wingate was its first president. Connecticut native General Alexander Shaler was one of the organization's founders and served as president or vice president for four years during the 1870s. Other former Civil  War generals who served as president of the NRA include such notables as Ulysses S. Grant and Philip Sheridan.

It wasn't until 1934 that the NRA formed a legislative advisory component in response to the  National Firearms Act of 1934. The NRA actually supported that act and the Gun Control Act of 1968. Both of these pieces of legislation created a licensing procedure for gun ownership, as well as other restrictions and legal requirements for gun owners and dealers.

The NRA's now often controversial role in lobbying for the rights of gun owners — most recently demonstrated following the tragic mass shooting in Newtown — is a fairly recent development in its history. Conceived originally by Civil War veterans such as Connecticut native Alexander Shaler to improve the efficiency of marksmanship for possible future wars, the NRA never became a legislative lobbying force until 1934. It is now regarded as one of the most efficient and potent lobbying groups in Washington, D.C.

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