"The President and I welcome your support," concluded Cheney,
"and I am confident that six and a half months from now, the American people
will choose the confident, steady, principled leadership of President Bush."
The crowd responded with an ovation.
A Thunder of Heroes
The theme of the Meetings, Freedom's Steel, paid tribute to heroes past
and present, to police officers, firefighters, the men and women of the military,
and also to NRA members who take the lead in the fight for the Second Amendment.
Amid the backdrop of the war on
terror and the lingering memory of Sept. 11, with our troops overseas, the opening
ceremony focused on a special breed of Americans, on, as NRA Executive Vice President
Wayne LaPierre so eloquently stated, "a thunder of heroes."
"We're here today," said NRA President Kayne Robinson,
"to pay tribute to America's sons and daughters."
Pay tribute they did. NRA members from all branches of the military
and local police officers and firefighters took the stage, announcing their names,
ranks and hometowns. Numbering some 50 strong, they stood at attention as the crowd
watched a moving video tribute to those who serve our country.
The city of Pittsburgh rolled out the welcome mat. Allegheny County
Chief Executive Dan Onorato read a proclamation commending the NRA for its work
and naming April 16 "Homeland Defender's Day" in Allegheny County.
Tribute also was paid to the absent Charlton Heston, who stepped down
as NRA President last year due to Alzheimer's disease, but who is definitely not
"While it's true that, on our watch, we've won many victories,"
said LaPierre at the Annual Meeting of Members, "we have much work left undone
and many challenges that lie ahead. And this is the first time, in a very long time,
that Charlton Heston is not on stage with us to lead us and inspire us.
At the Members Banquet, Vice President Dick Cheney was presented
an original Cecil Brooks flintlock rifle by Craig D. Sandler (l.), Sandra S. Froman,
Wayne R. LaPierre, Kayne B. Robinson and other NRA officers. Brooks (inset
l.), who is 91 years old, has produced Kentucky long rifles for presentation to
speakers since 1955. He was honored with an NRA Board of Directors Resolution recognizing
his 49 years of service.
"Over the years, at these meetings, his massive stature and stirring
words have created great moments that will live forever in history. Great moments
and words that, two and 10 and 50 generations from now, will explain why we gathered
in freedom's name."
In yet another highlight, NRA Board Member Oliver North addressed the
audience via satellite hookup from a post near Fallujah, Iraq. Staff Sgt. Kevin
Beneer, baritone soloist for the President's Own, the U.S. Marine Corps Band, performed
a moving rendition of "Where the Eagle Flies," and The Oak Ridge Boys,
Grammy and Country Music Association award-winning recording artists, elicited smiles
with their mad dash to the stage as they waved their NRA membership cards, then
treated the crowd to their hit tunes.
Taking Care Of Business
The Annual Meeting of Members opened with a prayer by NRA Board Member
Susan Howard and the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" by U.S. Marine
Staff Sgt. Kevin Beneer. Honorees included the youngest and oldest Life membersÑ1-year-old
Michael Kochman of Pennsylvania and 98-year-old Claude Willoughby of Wisconsin,
Army 1st Sgt. James Taylor Jr. (r.) was one of many sons
and daughters in uniform to be honored during opening ceremonies.
The reports of the officers followed roll call, adoption of the
agenda and approval of the minutes. Executive Director of General Operations Craig
D. Sandler opened with a speech based upon the American ideal of life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness. "This eloquent, simple phrase sums up everything
NRA represents today," remarked Sandler. NRA Second Vice President John C.
Sigler focused on the actions of Paul Revere, comparing today's anti-freedom forces
to the Tories of yesteryear. "We will continue to defeat the enemies of freedom
as long as freedom has enemies," he promised. NRA First Vice President Sandra
S. Froman warned of the threat posed by a Kerry-appointed Supreme Court. "The
words of the Constitution are fixed, but the Supreme Court decides what it means,"
she cautioned. "There will be no appeal." Chris W. Cox, Executive Director
of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, reported on the progress being made
on Right-To-Carry laws and the federal litigation reform bill, which would protect
gun manufacturers from predatory lawsuits, and he enumerated many of the political
victories by gun owners over the past several years. He reserved his most heated
comments for Kerry. "If you want to know where John Kerry stands on your gun
rights," he said as he held up a photo of the Massachusetts senator standing
with Senators Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein and Ted Kennedy, "I can show
you where he stands'literally. Do you want your Supreme Court chosen by this group?"
he asked. "No!" the crowd thundered back.
In his address to the members, NRA President Kayne B. Robinson focused
on hunters. "Hunters comprise one of the largest branches of our family,"
he said. "In fact, NRA has more hunters than any other organization."
But hunters and their pastime are being threatened, said Robinson, by anti-gun forces
and abusive bureaucrats and suffocating regulations. "War
has been declared on our hunters and NRA must engage in that battle with all the
tenacity we have brought to battles past. My vision is this: Just as we are America's
gun rights organization, the National Rifle Association must also become the hunters"
At its April 19 meeting, NRA's Board elected officers for 2004-05: President
Kayne B. Robinson; First Vice President Sandra S. Froman; Second Vice President
John C. Sigler; Executive Vice President Wayne R. LaPierre; Secretary Edward J.
Land Jr.; and Treasurer Wilson H. Phillips Jr. LaPierre reappointed NRA Institute
for Legislative Action Executive Director Chris W. Cox and Executive Director of
NRA General Operations Craig D. Sandler.
4 Acres Of NRA
The weekend featured a little
bit of everything for everyone. From l.: History buffs were treated to several gun
collections and a display of World War II hero Sgt. Alvin York's personal memorabilia.
The youngest Life member present was 1-year-old Michael Kochman (with mom Diana),
the oldest, 98-year-old Claude Willoughby. The airgun range offered something for
young and old alike. More than 60,000 NRA members were treated to 4 acres of exhibits
of guns and gear.
Billboards strategically placed around Pittsburgh and its environs proclaimed
"4 Acres of Guns and Gear," but they could have read "4 Acres of
NRA." The meetings and exhibits and NRA members filled the city, and the weekend
featured something for everyone who answers the call to defend our Second Amendment
freedoms and enjoys the shooting sports, hunting or gun collecting.
There were shooting clinics, including some at an airgun range; gun collections,
including exhibits outlining the evolution of U.S. Marine Corps sniper rifles, guns
of the National Matches and a display of World War II hero Sgt. Alvin York's personal
memorabilia; special sessions on hunting and self-defense; and product demonstrations
throughout the weekend. The Great American Game Calling Contest, now in its fifth
year, pitted some of the country's top callers against each other. And of course,
there were informational sessions, committee meetings, receptions and banquets,
along with abundant opportunities to view and purchase the latest in firearms and
At the Saturday morning prayer breakfast, hosted by the International
Fellowship of Christian Businessmen (IFCB), nearly 700 people heard poet and performance
artist Peter Enns' original compositions set to patriotic music. They also heard
Apollo astronaut and keynote speaker Charles Duke Jr., who reminded the early-morning
crowd that the forefathers had deep religious roots, citing numerous passages from
America's earliest documents.
Freedom's Lead Guitar
God gave us life. ... it's our moral obligation to protect
So stated rock star, hard-core hunter and NRA Board Member Ted Nugent
April 18, when he spoke about self-defense and other topics in a special session
called "God, Guns & Rock -n- Roll." Nugent, who wrote a book by the
same name in 2000, began with a blazing rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner"
on his electric guitar, a la Jimi Hendrix, then entertained more than 1,000 NRA
member/fans with his brash style and showmanship. He put anti-Second Amendment politicians
on notice, and urged fellow NRA members to do the same.
"Ya'll got to tell them," he said. "It's absolutely essential
that you confront them. Assert yourselves."
At the women's breakfast, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll
told the assemblage, "We share an unwavering belief that the future of our
unique American gift of freedom largely depends on you, the proud women of the NRA,
to stand your ground and defend our right, our liberties and our values." Baker
Knoll encouraged the women to join, promote and work as active members within the
NRA and to "educate your co-workers on the issues that matter to all of us."
Also during the breakfast, NRA Director Sue King presented NRA First Vice President
Sandra S. Froman with the 2004 Sybil Ludington Women's Freedom Award.
The NRA and, consequently, the Annual Meetings are all inclusive: men,
women, children, the able and the not so able.
For instance, as the ranks of women in the NRA continue to grow, so,
too, do the special programs directed at them. At the session entitled "Women's
Wear and Wilderness Gear," representatives from seven manufacturers: Browning,
Beretta, Brunton, Leupold & Stevens, Loon Lake, Otis Technology, and Michael's
of Oregon highlighted women-specific hunting and outdoor products. All of them indicated
the women's market is where their companies have devoted special attention, creating
women-friendly products and educating their staffs on selling to this growing segment
of outdoor enthusiasts.
Hundreds of children gave the airgun range a try. They shot everything
from beginners' handguns and rifles to those upper-end pneumatics often used by
Olympic competitors. On Saturday, youngsters outnumbered adults in the standing-room-only
crowd, where the excitement of 4-year-old Pittsburgh native Cairo Palmiere was contagious.
She won her first ribbon for shooting, and her enthusiasm spurred older brother,
10-year-old Daniel, to new levels of concentration.
One member told the story of watching a man stroll up and down an exhibit
aisle with his wife. The fellow "had a pained walk, and despite the fact that
he worked that entire aisle, what had to seem a marathon, I knew his wheelchair
was somewhere nearby," said the member. But he witnessed the loving glances
exchanged between the man and his wife, and he realized it was a "defining
moment at the annual meetings," he explained.
"For those simply unable to rise to or flee from a physical confrontation,
the right to keep and bear arms is much more than a constitutional amendment. It's
the God-given right to help ensure the welfare of their loved ones."