The Touching Story Behind the NRA Whittington Center

Everyone’s favorite place to shoot has a beautiful history rooted in the small-town Southwest.

by posted on August 30, 2021
Raton New Mexico

In the 1950s and 60s the U.S. experienced a massive loss of shooting ranges as the result of suburban sprawl eating up more and more land. Real estate prospects were more profitable than shooting ranges, so they were ousted.

The NRA took notice of this phenomenon, and wanted to provide a comprehensive shooting facility for members to continue training, recreating and meeting. They set out on a mission to find the right location for such an all-inclusive facility. However, they immediately hit resistance.

After the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in the 60s, demands for gun control were growing. Most cities didn’t want the NRA in their backyards. The fruitless search continued for the perfect place to build the ultimate gun range.

Meanwhile, in 1951 Raton, New Mexico, the population of the city dropped drastically due to the death of the mining industry. After the mine closed, the city needed a new strategy to stay afloat. With no interest in becoming completely dependent on one company or industry again, city leaders looked for small manufacturers and entrepreneurs who understood small town culture, and were committed to sticking around.

Raton invited the NRA to consider New Mexico for the shooting facility. Select NRA Board members flew to Raton to take a look at the old mining site where they could build their ideal gun range amidst acres of ranches and open Southwest scenery. However, the decision to build the NRA Whittington Center in Raton was set in stone before they even deplaned.

The entire city was waiting beside the tarmac to greet the NRA representatives. Families were grilling and cheering as the plane touched down. The NRA was convinced that this was the town for them based solely on the enthusiasm and energy of the people.

Although Raton, New Mexico, and the NRA were a match made in heaven, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows to fund such a massive facility. Facing an anti-gun press and Congress, the NRA was forced to create its lobbying arm, NRA-ILA, instead of funding the Whittington Center. This decision was certainly the right one, considering that without the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), we wouldn’t have the freedoms that we do today.

However, the question of how to build the shooting facility their members desperately needed was now without an answer. The board decided to delegate the Whittington Center funding to the NRA Contribution Fund. This meant that everything from the building to upkeep to employees would be paid for through donations.

Now, 70 percent of that budget comes from patrons of the Whittington Center. The members, users and visitors of this facility are so passionate about this place that its operating costs are covered entirely by donations.

If you haven’t had the chance to visit the NRA Whittington Center, I highly recommend you plan a trip. It’s a unique, authentic and exciting shooting experience that the entire family can enjoy. They’re also proactive in gun education and promoting the shooting sports amidst future generations.

Aside from the Women’s Wilderness Escape that I recently had the pleasure of attending, there is also the Whittington Center Adventure Camp. This youth camp has been operating since 1988 and is still teaching kids about firearm safety and the joys of the shooting sports. This comprehensive youth program instills the values of patriotism, loyalty and safety. The dedicated instructors don’t just teach them the basics and send them home either. Kids stay for almost two weeks to have time to practice and improve their skills in a fun and educational environment.

If you’re interested in visiting, getting your youngster involved or donating to this worthy cause, visit their website here. It’s an experience I recommend to every NRA Woman.


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