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NRA's charity trains a whole new generation of gun owners

Karmen Underwood, 18, of Shongaloo, La., is a reigning national champion in .28 gauge shooting. She’s been competing since she was in fourth grade. Looking on is her teammate, Kyle Peterson, 18, of Minden, La., and his father, the team’s shotgun instructor, Rodney Peterson.

Members of the 4-H Shooting Sports Program practice skeet shooting in a red dirt field in Minden, La., ahead of the 4-H state tournament later this month.

Karmen Underwood, 18, of Shongaloo, La., takes aim at a clay disk sailing through the air, as part of a recent skeet practice. The reigning national champion in .28 gauge shooting is preparing for the 4-H state tournament.

Rodney Peterson is a shotgun instructor with the 4-H Shooting Sports Program in Minden, La. He always recites this mantra before his students ever pick up their guns: “Eyes and ears on the field. Safety first.”

Shooting sports require a lot of equipment, much of which is provided through annual grants from the Friends of the NRA. Peterson said these grants help him build the foundation for a lifetime of safe shooting.

“We’ve been doing this now for eight or nine years -- never with a mishap. It’s all about being safe. One accident can ruin it for everybody,” Peterson said, during a recent practice in a makeshift skeet field where his advanced shotgun students are getting ready for the state tournament.

To generate money for these programs, Friends of the NRA holds about 1,100 banquets nationwide each year. Lately, these banquets have been drawing record crowds. Curt Green of Texarkana, Texas, has seen the recent outpouring of people and money. He said even in a mediocre economy, gun rights supporters are opening up their wallets like never before.

“When you attack the Second Amendment, you bring the supporters out,” Green said. “Friends of the NRA is nonpolitical. But, probably 80 to 90 percent of people there are members of the NRA, like myself. This is a way they can be political through NRA, but they can support locally through Friends of the NRA.”

Friends of the NRA has raised more than $200 million since it started these dinners back in the mid-‘90s. Green meets with other banquet organizers once a year to divvy up proceeds to area school districts and 4-H teams. About $200,000 in grants prop up these programs each year in east Texas alone. He said he wants to fund proposals that reach the most kids.

“In this part of the country, it’s a tradition. I hardly know anybody who doesn’t own a gun. I hardly know anybody who doesn’t own multiple guns,” Green said. “I want our kids to have the same things we had. I think it will keep a very important heritage of our country alive.”

In Louisiana, more than 5,000 kids are enrolled in the 4-H Shooting Sports Program, making it the biggest draw of the organization.

Karmen Underwood, 18, of Shongaloo, La., is a reigning national champion in .28 gauge shooting. She’s been competing since she was in fourth grade.

“I honestly believe that if I couldn’t shoot anymore, I don’t know what I would do because this is one of the only things that I will do until I am old,” Underwood said.

When Underwood goes off to college next year, she hopes to start a shooting club and be its volunteer instructor... possibly with the help of an NRA grant.

Members of the 4-H Shooting Sports Program practice skeet shooting in a red dirt field in Minden, La., ahead of the 4-H state tournament later this month.

Karmen Underwood, 18, of Shongaloo, La., takes aim at a clay disk sailing through the air, as part of a recent skeet practice. The reigning national champion in .28 gauge shooting is preparing for the 4-H state tournament.

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