Harlon Carter

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Harlon Carter
BornAugust 10, 1913
Granbury, Texas
DiedNovember 19, 1991 (1991-11-20) (aged 78)
Green Valley, Arizona

Harlon Bronson Carter (August 10, 1913 – November 19, 1991), born Harlan Bronson Carter, was an American leader of the United States Border Patrol and the National Rifle Association. Carter was an advocate for gun rights in the United States. Carter's 1977 election as NRA Executive Vice President marked a turning point for the organization.[1] During his tenure, from 1977 to 1985, he shifted the organization's focus from promoting marksmanship and sports shooting towards advocacy for less restrictive gun laws. Under Carter's leadership, the NRA became less compromising on gun rights issues.[2] It also tripled its membership and gained considerable political influence.[3][4]

Early life[edit]

Carter was born in Granbury, Texas, as "Harlan Carter."[5] Carter's father, Horace B. Carter, was an officer in the United States Border Patrol.[6] His family subsequently lived in Laredo, Texas.[citation needed] Carter joined the National Rifle Association as a junior member at the age of 16.[3]

Murder conviction[edit]

On March 3, 1931, Carter shot and killed 15-year-old Ramón Casiano.[5] Carter's mother testified at trial that she told Carter that she thought three Mexican youths whom she saw loitering around the Carter home may know something about the theft of the Carter family's automobile three weeks earlier.[5][7][8][9] Carter confronted the youths with a shotgun and asked them to return to the Carter home to submit to questioning by his mother.[7][8] Casiano, the oldest of the three youths, took out a knife.[7] Carter fatally shot Casiano.[5] Carter pleaded self-defense. Carter was convicted of murder without malice aforethought, a lesser charge than had been sought by the prosecution.[5] Carter served two years in prison.[8] The conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Appeals, which found that the judge in the case had issued incomplete jury instructions regarding laws related to self-defense.[5][3][8][10] Carter's name appears as "Harlan" in court records and news accounts.[5]


Carter graduated from the University of Texas and from Emory University School of Law.[3] Carter registered as "Harlon."[5]

Immigration services career[edit]

In 1936, Carter began a career with the United States Border Patrol,[5] where his father had also worked. Carter rose through the ranks and commanded the entire border patrol from 1950 through 1957. From 1961 to 1970, Carter directed the Southwestern region of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He retired from government service in 1970.[3]

Carter was among the leaders of Operation Wetback.[11] Carter described Operation Wetback as "The biggest drive against illegal aliens in history."[12][13] At a press conference on June 16, 1954 on the eve of the drive, Carter said "This is one drive that won't blow over."[14]

National Rifle Association leadership[edit]

Carter on the July 1977 issue of The American Rifleman, at the time he was selected to lead the NRA.

Carter first joined the National Board of the NRA in 1951, and served as the organization's president from 1965-1967. In 1975, Carter became director of the NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. During the 1960s and 1970s, NRA leaders debated the organization's mission. Many of the organization's leaders believed that the NRA should focus on its traditional mission of promoting marksmanship and shooting sports. Carter, on the other hand, led a faction that wanted to see the NRA focus on advocating against gun control legislation.[15]

The NRA leadership was ambivalent about the Gun Control Act of 1968, the first gun control legislation since the 1930s. Franklin Orth, the group's Executive Vice President at the time of the act's passage, supported some parts of law, including limits on mail-order gun purchases and bans of Saturday night specials, inexpensive, often low-quality handguns, while opposing other provisions as "unduly restrictive and unjustified in their application to law-abiding citizens".[16][17] In contrast, Carter believed that no gun control legislation could be acceptable. He wrote to the NRA membership: "We can win it on a simple concept – No compromise. No gun legislation."[18][19] Carter opposed background checks for gun purchasers, saying that the acquisition of guns by violent criminals and the mentally ill is the "price we pay for freedom".[20]

In 1976, the NRA leadership fired seventy-four employees, most of them supporters of Carter. Carter resigned in protest. However, in 1977, at the NRA's annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, Carter and other activists succeeded in changing the organization's bylaws and voting out much of the leadership. Carter replaced Maxwell Rich as Executive Vice President, responsible for the NRA's operations.[19] In July of that year, he was featured prominently on the cover of The American Rifleman, the official magazine of the NRA.[21]

In 1981, on the occasion of his unanimous re-election to a fifth term as executive vice president of the NRA, newspaper reporters learned that Carter had been convicted of the murder of Ramón Casiano.[5] Carter initially denied any knowledge of the incident but later acknowledged that he had been responsible for the shooting.[3][22] Carter denied changing the spelling of his name was related to the murder.[5]

Carter remained in this position until 1985. Under Carter's leadership, the NRA's membership tripled to over three million. The organization's budget and political influence also increased.[3]


Carter died of lung cancer in 1991 at his home in Green Valley, Arizona.[3]


In the NRA's Golden Ring of Freedom, their program for honoring financial supporters, the highest level of contribution, over $5 million per year, is named for Carter.[23]

In popular culture[edit]

The album American Band by the Drive-By Truckers features a song, "Ramon Casiano", about the shooting of Casiano, and Carter's subsequent career.[24]


  1. ^ Davidson 1998, p. 36.
  2. ^ Spitzer 2002.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Lambert 1991.
  4. ^ Davidson 1998, p. 39.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Crewdson 1981.
  6. ^ Lytle Hernández.
  7. ^ a b c Davidson 1998, p. 32.
  8. ^ a b c d Lytle Hernández, pp. 68-69.
  9. ^ Sugarmann 1992.
  10. ^ Horwitz 2012.
  11. ^ Associated Press 1954.
  12. ^ Los Angeles Times 1954.
  13. ^ Blakemore 2018.
  14. ^ Los Angeles Times 1955.
  15. ^ Davidson 1998, pp. 28–36.
  16. ^ Hardy 2002.
  17. ^ Lepore 2012.
  18. ^ Achenbach, Higham & Horwitz 2013.
  19. ^ a b Davidson 1998, pp. 28-36.
  20. ^ Powell 2000.
  21. ^ "Harlon Carter". Flickr. Retrieved 2017-09-21.
  22. ^ "Leader of Rifle Group Affirms that he Shot Boy to Death in 1931". The New York Times. 6 May 1981. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  23. ^ Violence Policy Center 2013.
  24. ^ Gotrich 2016.