The NRA, The Foundation, and A Safer Tomorrow

When I was a kid, millions of us were in NRA (National Rifle Association) certified shooting programs. Every week, through match seasons over several years, The Old Man dragged me and my kid brothers to the NRA range in East Wenatchee. There, with most of our friends, we fired thousands of rounds of .22 caliber ammo under safe and controlled conditions. He always said it was his job to make sure we were safe around the firearms with which we were having so much fun. The NRA made that possible.

I have found through the last 60 years that “NRA” is always an interesting conversation.

A few years back, I was talking with one of my colleagues about the upcoming Kittitas County Friends of the NRA banquet, and its support of the NRA Foundation for firearms safety training, local shooting facilities and other programs for all ages across America. Somewhere in there, I mentioned my strong support of the Second Amendment and training in safe handling of firearms for every kid and adult in the country.

My colleague – my friend – got pretty worked up listing tragedies involving firearms in the hands of unstable people. To his mind, the firearms were the problem. After stating his dismay at my support for firearms rights, he played his trump card. “You’re an ordained minister, for God’s sake,” he said. “How can you support these ‘firearm rights?’”

His question swept me back to a warm sunny day in 1991. The Colorado Legislature was debating a bill to limit the ability of some churches to practice their religions as they saw fit, and deny them recognition unless they met some new standard. A couple hundred of us were on the street outside the Capitol, representing denominations and practices from Wiccan to Catholic. I had just returned from a trip to St. Louis and a series of interviews with NRA officials. I had just been hired by the NRA to fill the newly-created field representative position in Denver. I would finalize the paperwork in Washington, DC.

One of my Homeys heard that I had accepted the NRA Field Rep job and moved out of his place in our picket/protest line to rag on me about the job. His initial comments, as I recall, were pretty similar to those of my colleague, above. The NRA, as he saw it, was the greatest evil on the planet, and to work with them on behalf of firearms rights – even if my job was more about education and safety training – clearly put me in bed with the devil himself.

As he wound himself up, others gathered. When he paused, I asked him why we were all in the street. “It is our right,” he said, “and these guys are messing with our First Amendment rights to freedom of religious practice!” I finally asked, “So, what is the Second Amendment?”

“It’s that gun stuff,” one of the women said, “but it’s only for the army, but a lot of people disagree.” That debate raged on ‘til someone dragged out a copy of our Bill of Rights (the first ten of our 27 Constitutional Amendments). “Okay,” Homey finally said. “So it’s a right, but we don’t have to support it. It’s not why we are here. Let’s get back to business. And,” he looked at me, “you really ought to be thinking about your priorities…”

As he turned, I said, “So, it’s okay to stand for religious rights, but wrong to stand for the right to bear arms? I can’t help but wonder why religion and bearing arms are the very first two amendments to the constitution that frames our lives and protects our freedoms. I don’t think we are here to pick and choose the freedoms we think are worth supporting. That’s a dead end. Don’t we have to stand up for all our rights, if we expect to keep any of them?” He paused, and sighed, “Yeah, okay, I can’t argue that. I just never thought about the NRA as some kind of ally – that’s weird…”

As it turned out, Wayne LaPierre reorganized the NRA before I went to DC to finish paperwork. We never opened a Denver office. And I still think that the key to maintaining our rights and freedoms is training people to handle firearms wisely, not to get rid of them.

Tomorrow is our local Friends of the NRA banquet. In partnership with many others, it will support ranges, equipment and safety training. No more than half the money raised will go to meals and production costs, and all net proceeds will go to qualified local, state and national programs. In 2013, Washington State raised nearly $440,000, with half of that coming back to shooting safety and training in our state (almost $20,000 in Kittitas County). The rest went to help national programs such as Eddie Eagle (teaching firearm safety rules to youngsters), Y.E.S. (Youth Education Summit), and other educational and safety shooting programs. See for yourself at

Plenty of people are still conflicted about firearms and the “NRA.” Not long ago, a colleague and I were talking about guns on campus. She stared at me. “The NRA? Oh, wow, scary… I don’t know about them!” After a moment, she said, “Oh, by the way. Do you know where my daughter and I can learn to safely handle a handgun?”

What would happen to firearm accidents and firearms violence if safety and marksmanship programs were required of every kid in the United States?

There is a seat for you. Bring your 40 bucks to the door of the Teanaway Room at the Fairgrounds after 4:00 p.m. tomorrow. It’s our future. Come play.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized