For the first time in the history of the Twin Counties, the area has its own chapter of Friends of the NRA, a non-profit spinoff of the National Rifle Association.
The local chapter, Southwest Virginia Friends of NRA, will host its inaugural event on Sat., April 13 at the Grover King VFW 1115 in Hillsville. The chapter held its third organizational meeting on Feb. 21 in Hillsville
“We’ve met three times to form the committee, which is newsworthy in itself because this is the first Friends of NRA in the Carroll/Grayson/Galax area,” said David Wells, Senior Field Representative for the NRA. “We have quite a few in Virginia, but it only makes sense with Hillsville having one of the largest gun shows east of the Mississippi that we have a committee up that way.”
With gun control and Second Amendment rights being among the most controversial topics in America today, Wells said many people often confuse Friends of NRA with the NRA. Friends of NRA is a 501(c)(3) spinoff of the NRA primarily focused on fundraising for youth shooting sports and associated activities.
“When you think of the NRA, sometimes the first reaction is some of the more controversial things we are associated with, and that is politics and membership. With this you don’t have to be an NRA member to attend, to participate. I can’t even sign up a member at the event because of our tax status for the NRA,” Wells said. “You won’t hear any politics. It is apolitical. Even though our mother organization is very membership-driven and we are in the spotlight all the time, this is not the point of it. I used that to my advantage over the years, but we haven’t had that need this year. There is so much of an interest right now, people are coming out of the woodwork to get involved because of all the controversy with gun control talk.”
Nothing makes a Friends of NRA banquet more unique than the people who make it all happen, Wells said. Working with NRA Field Staff, thousands of dedicated individuals across America - passionate and concerned about the future of the shooting sports - participate in the program by organizing committees, securing donations, selling tickets and hosting a Friends of NRA banquet in their communities.
“It’s all main-stream citizens working together to secure the Second Amendment and raise money for the shooting sports,” Wells said.
Friends of NRA banquets boil down to one goal— fund-raising for the future of the shooting sports. Since its inception in 1992, Friends of NRA has held over 15,000 events, reached over 2.8 million attendees and raised over $200 million for The NRA Foundation, a 501(c) (3) charitable organization. Each year, The NRA Foundation allocates half of all net proceeds to fund projects within the state in which the money was raised and uses the other half to fund similar projects with a national scope.
“We grant everything back out into programs that help foster the future of the shooting sports. For instance, in Virginia this past January we granted out $207,000,” Wells said. “To give you an idea, for 4-H shooting sports we have granted out over $700,000 in the past 20 years just for shooting sports in Virginia. Boys Scouts of America is probably over $500,000. Eighty percent of our money goes to youth shooting programs, but we also do women-on-target programs, range improvement, grants for educational programs that can be tied into the Second Amendment.”
Unlike other organizations like Ducks Unlimited, Wells said none of the money raised by Friends of NRA goes to the general operation of the NRA. It all goes back into programs for the future of shooting sports.
“Our interest is at an all-time high. I suspect this will be a great event in Hillsville,” Wells said. “And the event is family oriented. We want it to be something you can bring your family to. Traditionally most of our events are 35 percent women, a lot of couples. It is a fundraiser, but to me the Friends program has always been as the name implied. We are making friends of the NRA or making friends of the Second Amendment values and tradition.”
And you don’t have to be from Hillsville or Carroll County to come to a Southwest Virginia Friends of NRA event. In fact, it was given that name purposefully, Wells said, because the group hopes to pull people from neighboring counties such as Patrick and Floyd, even Surry County of North Carolina.
“In rural areas, people will travel 30 to 45 minutes to come to something like this,” Wells said. “And this is not a hunting program. We should attract everybody that hunts, everybody that shoots competitively, but also people that may not do either but believe in their Second Amendment right to bear arms.”
The April 13 event in Hillsville will include a lot of exclusive merchandise and firearms, Wells said, including a Kel Tec KSG shotgun. The shotgun is one of the most popular, hard-to-get firearms in the U.S. right now, he said. And while Ducks Unlimited and Turkey Federation banquets usually have firearms geared toward that particular sport, Wells said the Friends of NRA banquet will have guns that appeal to hunters as well as handguns and home defense guns that appeal to competitive shooters.
“I am excited about it. I think there will be a lot of interest,” said Robby Ladd of the Hillsville Gun Shop. “The neat thing is you don’t have to be an NRA member to come. We strongly encourage people to get involved.”
Tickets can be purchased at the Hillsville Gun Shop, online at www.friendsofnra.org or by contacting local committee members for tickets and details: Robby Ladd (276) 733-8530; Phillip Underwood (276) 732-1076 and Faye Rakes (276) 728-5745. Tickets are $35 per person or $55 per couple. Only 250 tickets will be sold for the event, Ladd said.