- - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As a veteran of the Marine Corps and a dedicated hunter, I have enjoyed a lifetime relying on and enjoying firearms. I have carried them into battle, trained others in their safe and effective use, shot competitively and spent as much time as I can hunting game for the table each fall. It is a passion I share with millions of other veterans. Many, like me, are fervent supporters of the 2nd Amendment and members of the National Rifle Association, where I serve as Secretary.

The NRA was founded in 1871 by veterans of the Civil War to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis,” as explained by co-founder Col. William C. Church. The association’s ties to veterans have never wavered, and our commitment to providing top-quality instruction and competition to our nation’s fighting men and women is as strong today as it was 143 years ago.

The NRA has been at the forefront of promoting, sponsoring and conducting shooting competitions throughout the organization’s history. From sanctioning more than 13,000 local matches at individual gun clubs around the country to conducting yearly National Pistol and Rifle Match Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio, the NRA is instrumental in the safe, efficient administration of challenging matches for competitors, many of whom got their start in shooting in the nation’s Armed Forces.

NRA currently offers numerous initiatives aimed at helping veterans. Our “Life of Duty” program, sponsored by online retailer Brownell’s, features discounts, special features and many other resources specifically aimed at the American Solder. Our “American Warrior” online magazine offers content tailored to fighting men and women, along with special offers and gear of interest to veterans and soldiers. We also offer preferential membership to retired and active-duty military and members of the law enforcement community.

Since 2012 the public NRA Range in Fairfax, Va., has welcomed over 200 men and women from local military hospitals to our facility for a “Day at the NRA” in honor of those who have served our country. We are proud to open our doors to these service members and their families in recognition of their sacrifices and to help ease the often arduous recuperation process. These events are designed to brighten the veterans’ day with a combination of education and hands-on fun. We are primarily working with the Warrior Transition Unit from Fort Belvoir to host the injured, ill, and wounded.

It’s the shooting sports and competitions, though, which have a direct, palpable impact on our fighting men and women. Many veterans learned how to shoot through their service training, and look to competitive shooting as a way to retain skills the Armed Forces helped instill. Of course, a little friendly competition doesn’t hurt, either, whether it’s against a friend from the military or the new guy they just met on the line. NRA competitions often feature military-specific categories exclusively for veterans.

The competitive urge is quite strong among our veterans. I was in Denver in 1988, and in my free time, would go down to the VA hospital just to see some of the troops, say hi and shake hands. I got the idea that they needed a recreational outlet to help their rehabilitation along, and thought some air gun shooting might be just the thing. It took awhile, but we managed to work our way through the bureaucracy. I got some air guns, pellets and targets donated, and one thing led to another and the program was off and running.

I told the folks at the VA hospital that I was ready to start and asked how many people to expect. They told me the really good programs drew 20 to 25 participants, so with that number in mind, I set up the range in the dining facility with all the rifles and equipment. More than 300 participants showed up and as you might guess that was quite a challenge. I pressed some of the attendees into service as range officers and organized the shooters into relays. Over the next several weeks, teams were organized, competitions were scheduled, records were established and the program was under way. The therapists, who initially were opposed, became very enthused and said it was one of the best therapeutic recreational programs they had offered.

Participants couldn’t just shoot a target and go back to their rooms, you see. After taking their turns on the firing line, each shooter would show his target to the next guy and then he had to show you his, so it developed a lot of social activity. It snowballed into teams being put together and grew into a very positive program.

In so many ways, the NRA has been doing just this arranging marksmanship competition and helping our nation’s veterans since the beginning. We see it as our duty and our obligation to give back to the men and women in uniform who help keep America free, and one of the best ways this can be accomplished is through friendly-but-fierce competition on the shooting range. Our instructors, range safety officers and match coordinators, many veterans themselves, help ensure that all competition is fair, safe, and enjoyed by all.

Anyone who has seen the enjoyment of veterans and others involved in the shooting sports knows just how important they can be.

Maj. Land was a member of the Marine Corps Shooting Team, distinguished with rifle and pistol, a NRA training counselor, instructor and match referee. He currently serves as Secretary of the NRA.

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