The Marksman Who Quit the NRA

Gerry Souter spent decades as a devoted NRA member. Now he thinks the group’s mission is misguided.

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Photo courtesy of Gerry Souter. Souter (2nd row wearing two-tone jacket/glasses) with the American Legion Jr. Rifle Club.

It all started with the pursuit of a merit badge for marksmanship.

Gerry Souter had only played with toy guns before a Boy Scouts of America troop was established in his South Side Chicago neighborhood back in the 1950s. The Boy Scouts offered Souter a path to shoot real guns, he said.

So Souter and his friends, all young boys at the time, created a makeshift shooting range in the crawl space below an old house to practice. They set up a target on one end, about 50 feet away, and used a “ratty” mattress for padding while laying down to shoot. The firearm they used, a single-shot rifle, was borrowed from the father of one of the boys, Souter said.

At least once a week, they practiced. A point system helped them keep track of progress. Five points for the edge of the target, eight points on the target and 10 points for the bullseye.

The first time Souter fires a shot, he scores an eight.

He opens the bolt and puts in another bullet. He shoots a bullseye. Ten points.

“That’s not bad,” Souter recalls.

Souter, now 79, is a photojournalist, marksman and author of “American Shooter: A Personal History of Gun Culture in the United States,” who has cultivated a decades-long relationship with firearms since his days firing from atop a mattress in a crawl space. He was also once a member of the National Rifle Association, joining as a teenager and spending three decades dedicated to the group’s causes.

But Souter has turned his back on the prominent gun-rights organization, arguing the group has abandoned its focus on the sport of shooting in favor of increasingly “hardcore” partisan politics.

It would be great if the NRA would get back to the sport of marksmanship.

“I couldn’t handle their attitudes about the Second Amendment and how vicious they got as far as anybody who didn’t kowtow to them,” Souter said.

Before Souter and his friends were shooting in a crawl space, he used to watch Wild West movies and play with a toy pistol inspired by Hopalong Cassidy, the fictional cowboy popular in 1930s movies.

Souter, who would eventually earn his Boy Scouts merit badge for marksmanship, said he started becoming an expert shooter within years. He said he owed some of his success to the NRA, which sponsored competitions for young shooters and whose magazine also informed Souter about gun safety and popular marksmen of the day.

By the time Souter was 17, he had become a certified NRA shooting instructor and after graduating college his shooting abilities helped land him a job as a detective in Arizona.

But Souter said as he got older it stopped making sense to be a member of the NRA. He said disagreeing with the group could lead to being called a “gun grabber” or an opponent of the Constitution.

“It would be great if the NRA would lose the chip on their shoulder
and go back to what they’re really good at and get off of the political power grip thing and get back to the sport of marksmanship.”

Souter said he still makes time to go to the shooting range to brush up.

“I sure would like to see the sport come back,” he said.

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