In 1871 the United States was still reeling from the wanton destruction of the Civil War, which having ended only six years prior, was still pretty front and center in people's minds. One of the things that most troubled the grizzled and undoubtedly untreated PTSD suffering veterans was why the war had dragged on as long as it did. Into this breached charged a lawyer, a newspaper publisher, and a general better known for his facial hair than his strategic genius named Ambrose Burnside. After lots of drinking brandy and letting loose with healthy guffaws, these luminaries decided the problem was that the squirrel hunting southerners were just plain more familiar with guns than their more urban northern counterparts. Recognizing that people were increasingly moving into cities, which are notably lacking in good hunting grounds, it was decided that providing training in firearms was imperative to the national defense, you know, in case of another war. Thus was born the National Rifleman's Association (NRA).
Now the NRA of this early day and age was nothing like it is today, mostly because at the time people saw the 2nd Amendment and the idea of gun rights very differently. For most of the nation's history the 2nd Amendment was mostly seen as having nothing to do with individuals, but rather just the right of each state to have its own militia. Historically each state funded and armed its own militia, which remained under the control of the states' governments, often even during times of war. However, this changed in 1933 when the federal government created the National Guard, effectively taking control of the state militias. For its part, the NRA was mostly focused on education throughout this early period. It only started to venture into politics starting in the 1920's and 1930's, at which time it came out in support of more restrictive gun laws when it came to handguns and other firearms. Laws like permits for concealed weapons, mandatory waiting periods, gun sale records, registration by gun sellers and owners, and banning felons from having guns were all wholeheartedly endorsed by the organization.
Fast forward to the 1960's and things began to change. One of the first people to advocate the idea that the 2nd Amendment meant everyone had the right to pack a gun was Malcolm X, the famed militant civil rights leader. According to Malcolm X's way of thinking, if white people and police carried guns and hurt black people, than black people sure as hell had the right to carry guns and defend themselves. Unfortunately for Malcolm X, soon after breaking away from the more militant wing of the civil rights movement he was assassinated by them in 1965. However, his views on blacks arming themselves was soon after taken up by the Black Panthers, another militant civil rights group whose members, aside from doing a literal shit ton of charity work, also tended to follow around police while openly carrying guns in order to dissuade police violence.
Well, it goes without saying given that this was the 1960's that white people freaked right the fuck out. So much so that they pushed California to pass the Mulford Act, which banned the carrying of loaded weapons in public. The Black Panthers tried to lobby against the act by showing up at the statehouse armed to the teeth, which has one can imagine, did little to nothing to help. This in turn led to numerous other states passing similar laws, culminating in the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which greatly restricted who could have a gun and how guns were sold in this country.
All of these pieces of legislation were fully endorsed by the NRA. However, a growing radical group within the organization was less than pleased with the increasing tight rules regarding guns. Led by Harlon Carter, a man who had gotten away with murder on a technicality, these hardliners increasingly gained influence within the group. The NRA leadership tried to counter by firing employees loyal to Carter and disengaging completely from politics, but Carter and his followers outmaneuvered them and in a single meeting in 1977 not only took control of the NRA, but also completely changed its mission to one of lobbying against all forms of gun control. In 1980 the group endorsed its first presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, the same man who had signed the Mulford Act while governor in California.
From there we all know the story. Over the next several decades the NRA tripled its membership, climbed into bed with the gun industry, and became one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country. Up until the reformation of the NRA, the Supreme Court had only heard around four cases regarding the 2nd Amendment, in all of which it affirmed the idea that the amendment only applied to state militias. This all changed in 2008 when the Supreme Court heard the case District of Columbia v. Heller, finding on the side of the NRA and gun right activists by for the first time ruling that the 2nd Amendment guaranteed the right of all individuals to carry guns. Since then two more cases have followed, reaffirming and strengthening this ruling. Hence was created the world we live in today.