by Gina M. Schmidt, Managing Editor, America’s 1st Freedom
NRA President Jim Porter refers to himself as a country lawyer, but many note he is a top-notch attorney with a great legal mind, making him the perfect choice to head the NRA as it takes on legal cases to further preserve our firearm freedoms.
“For Jim Porter, it’s personal. He’s been an NRA member all his life and has a deep appreciation for the heritage of our association,” says NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. “Jim has now become the first son in history to follow his father in service as NRA president, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. In the critical aftermath of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the Heller and McDonald cases, Jim’s success as a trial attorney, seasoned in firearm law, bodes well for preserving the heritage of the NRA and future of the Second Amendment we all cherish.”
NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox concurs. “Jim brings a long history of involvement with and service to NRA and will serve our members well during his term as president,” says Cox. “He has been extremely supportive of ILA throughout the years and I look forward to continuing our work together.”
Jim Porter’s life began in the bedroom community of Homewood, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham. “My childhood was a bit like a ‘Leave It To Beaver’ episode,” Porter recalls.
He walked to his elementary school every day. His high school, Shades Valley, was a highly regarded public school with an interesting mix of diverse ethnicities, “it was a wonderful, eclectic environment.”
Porter’s mother, Sarah Sterrett Porter, was a teacher whose favorite subject was Latin. Porter preferred history. “I was always interested in history,” he says, “particularly the Greek City-States and the Roman Republic, and I am interested in the history of our own republic.”
Jim is the youngest in his family with two sisters and a brother. He is a sixth-generation Alabamian who was blessed to grow up in the outdoors.
“My dad was an avid outdoorsman and we grew up hunting and fishing,” he recalls. “He loved to quail hunt and we raised bird dogs. I was able to spend a lot of time with him hunting in the field. I grew up hunting quail, dove shooting, duck hunting, turkey hunting and deer hunting. We have some family property where we raise timber down in the country, so to speak, and have been preserving the wildlife in that area for more than 50 years.”
The Porter family has been involved in conservation for generations. “Jim is strongly committed to the rank and file hunters. During his long tenure on the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board, he never once lost sight of the common man,” said Corky Pugh, long-time director of the Alabama Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division.
Camp Perry and The NRA
Porter’s first rifle was an M1 Carbine that he took deer hunting. His first shotgun was a Browning over/under for bird hunting. “That shotgun was fired by my dad and me, and now my son has it,” says Porter. “Manufactured about 1939 and it still shoots great. I really would like to get it back but I don’t think I will.”
As a boy, Porter spent a few weeks each summer at Camp Perry, watching his dad participate in the National Matches. “I attended the small arms firing school, but mainly spent a couple of weeks there while my dad competed in the big bore matches,” he said. Porter’s father, former NRA President Irvine Porter, continued to compete at Camp Perry until he was 75.
“You had the best competitors, the tippity-top in pistol, smallbore and big bore disciplines from around the world,” Porter recalls. “It was a wonderful group of people.” Porter describes the National Matches as a country fair with military parades and all the Army food a kid could eat.
The NRA Board of Directors meetings were also held at Camp Perry, so young Porter met many of NRA’s iconic figures.
“George Whittington, Harlon Carter, Lloyd Mustin and Alvin Badeaux were all pistol shooters,” Porter recalls. “My dad, Allan Cors and Alice Bull were high power shooters. They were like family to me and I am a product of that environment. It was a lot of fun. I was recently up there for the first shot of the 2013 National Matches and it always brings back a flood of good memories.”
Porter and his wife, Kathryn, have been married for 39 years. “Kathryn went to Auburn and I went to the University of Alabama, we met on a blind date after college,” Porter says. He continued on to law school and Kathryn went to work at a printing company. They married after he finished law school.
They have two children. “James W. Porter III, who we call Jay, and my daughter, Kathryn Ludington Porter, known as Katie,” Porter says. “Now, to correct some of the pundits who have said I should be referred to as ‘junior’ and not ‘the second,’ I was named for my uncle, a star football player for the University of Tennessee under General Neyland and all I can say is that those who criticize me for that are woefully uneducated.”
Jay is a lawyer, his wife, Kristin, is completing her residency at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“The important thing about Jay and Kristin is that they are the parents of my grandson, Joe, who is 6, a bright, vivacious young man,” notes Porter with pride.
Katie, who has two masters degrees, one in American Studies and one in Education, wants to teach American Studies, History and Civics.
The University of Alabama plays a large role in the Porter family. Irvine Porter lettered there in baseball and served as president of the National Alumni Association. Jim was invited as a walk-on for the football team by Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant his freshman year, and played defensive end and defensive tackle on the freshman team until he was injured.
“The University of Alabama football program and Coach Bryant promoted the pursuit of excellence,” Porter recalls. “That is a big part of my philosophy and the lessons I learned being part of that program. My family and I are still huge Alabama football fans and attend as many games as possible. We support the excellence in academics that is the standard at the University of Alabama.”
Porter recalls visiting Washington, D.C., with his father as he conducted NRA business.
“We’d fly into D.C. and go to the old headquarters building,” says Porter. “So I spent time with him and met his good friends such as Louis Lucas and Franklin Orth, who was the executive vice president at the time, and Judge Bartlett Rummel (past NRA president). I enjoyed being around such high-minded, competent people.”
One crucial period of NRA history stands out in Porter’s mind.
“The Second Amendment had never been an issue before 1968,” Porter recalls. “The passage of the Gun Control Act marked the first time there was a criminal statute against owning guns. The year 1968 was also the first time the NRA was labeled the ‘gun lobby,’ a pejorative term to make us look like we were the fixers on Capitol Hill, when in fact we had not yet perfected our ability to get our membership engaged in the political process.”
NRA management was concerned with NRA’s image in the press as it was really being given a black eye. “The NRA was labeled uncompromising and too confrontational,” Porter recalls. “The same labels the media uses today.”
There was serious discussion of moving the NRA to Colorado and focusing on being a conservation club. In the meantime, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) was created to give gun owners a voice on Capitol Hill. But the internal struggle over the direction NRA should take culminated in a tense Members’ Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, referred to as the “Cincinnati Revolt.” Irvine Porter chaired that meeting and kept the order as a change in leadership headed by Harlon Carter was heralded in and the course was set for NRA to become the powerful grassroots organization it is today.
“That started our policy of electing pro-gun congressmen and senators and that is the policy that has made the NRA the powerhouse it is today,” notes Porter. “We are non-partisan when it comes to electing pro-gun legislators. If you are pro-gun we will work to get you elected and if you are anti-gun we will beat you.”
Porter’s lifelong attachment to the NRA led to his first term on the Board of Directors in 1988. He has served continuously on the board since 1997.
“Jim has chaired the NRA Legal Affairs Committee for many years, so he is intimately familiar with legal battles the NRA has fought to protect and advance the Second Amendment,” notes former NRA President and attorney Sandy Froman.
Immediate past NRA President David Keene and current First Vice President Allan Cors agree. “Jim has been preparing for the NRA presidency all his life,” says Keene. “His legal training and long service as head of the NRA Legal Affairs Committee and his love of the law make him the right man at the right time to lead the NRA.”
“Jim Porter was literally born to the job of being the leader of our great organization,” said Cors.
“Jim’s intellect, affability, strong persona and wide experience make him a natural leader for the NRA in the years ahead.”
In private life, Jim heads the law firm of Porter, Porter and Hassinger, founded by his dad in 1931.
“I have an active and vibrant law practice and then I devote most of my time to carrying out my NRA duties. It is quite a job, but it is fun and it is a huge, huge honor,” he notes.
“Jim is an experienced trial lawyer,” notes Bob Dowlut, NRA General Counsel. “In selecting a jury, he wins because he can get to the heart of a case in understandable language. During jury selection in a tort case he once asked potential jurors, ‘Do you believe a man should be rewarded for doing something stupid?’”
“Porter has both patience and persistence, which are not the same thing,” says former NRA-ILA General Counsel Michael Parker, a good friend for 30 years. “Both will be needed for his tasks ahead.”
“When Jim speaks, he is in immediate command of the room and he speaks with humility, discipline and integrity,” notes NRA Board member and General Counsel of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies Carol Bambery.
Porter says NRA has a wealth of programs to serve all forms of hunting and shooting. What he wants to improve during his presidency is the outreach and spreading of the message.
One program Porter feels deserves more notice is the NRA Disabled Shooting Services program.
“The Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital in Alabama has an indoor shooting program that the NRA funded,” Porter says. “That is where the Paralympic shooters train, where the wounded warriors go to rehab, and the discipline of the shooting sports plays a big part in the rehabilitation process.
“What the NRA does best is education and training and so much of the public is unaware of the rich diversity of our training programs. My mission is to ensure our special outreach will guarantee that the public understands the value of an NRA membership: education and training, youth programs, special needs programs and special insurance programs, women’s programs and our award-winning Eddie Eagle Gunsafe program” says Porter.
“Many feel we are just a lobbying group, but much of the work we do is in education and training. We train more than one million people a year in gun safety.
“One of my core values is good citizenship,” Porter continues. “And our members are all Exhibit A of what a good citizen is. They are law-abiding people. Look at attendance at our Annual Meetings every year. We all enjoy associating with like-minded people. Someone told me the NRA Annual Meetings are like coming home again.
“NRA members are the quintessential, solid American citizens. I have the privilege of going around and talking to them. I appreciate them being so kind to me but I tell them, ‘You all are the NRA.’”
Looking ahead, Porter says the 2014 U.S. Senate elections will be vital to preserving gun rights and the NRA team is ready for the challenge.
“You can’t begin to quantify how important it will be to elect a pro-gun Senate. The Senate plays a huge role in protecting the Second Amendment, the Senate confirms Supreme Court justices and right now our rights hang by one vote. I don’t know if ‘vital’ is a strong enough word to be sure that the justices on the Supreme Court honor and recognize that the Second Amendment protects a fundamental individual right.
“Someone asked me about the ‘new NRA.’ I asked, ‘What’s new about it?’ He said, ‘Well, now everything is different.’ I said, ‘No, nothing’s different. It’s the same fight we’ve been fighting for 45 years. The rhetoric is the same, and the gun banners are making the same claims. We are having the same conversation over and over, the gun banners just haven’t won yet. And if we have anything to do with it, they will not win the day.
“The NRA is much more than the sum of its assets,” Porter says proudly. “You cannot replicate the aura of the NRA, the public goodwill. The NRA is its membership. There is only one NRA.”
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