2003 marked the 100th anniversary of the
Illinois State Rifle Association. As that date approached, I couldn’t help but
reflect on the circumstances that motivated our founders to forge what is now,
more than 100 years later, one of the most active and respected state rifle
associations in the nation. Our appearance may have altered since that time, but
our mission remains unchanged. Frequently, our members ask: 1) how did the ISRA
come into existence? and 2) who is the ISRA? Let me take you back – to how it
all began …
The need for an “organized militia” to augment the U.S. Armed forces and the
irregular militia (i.e. civilians – you and me) came to fruition when in 1903
the National Guard Act was passed by the Congress and signed by President
Theodore Roosevelt. The most crucial challenge at the dawn of the 20th century,
President Theodore Roosevelt and the Congress agreed, would be the protection of
the United States against enemies, both foreign and domestic. Their foresight
rings true today, more so than ever before.
Immediately after the National Guard Act was passed, it was recognized that
civilians would form the core of the nation’s defense, either as part of the
U.S. military, National Guard, or irregular militia. It was reasoned that good
marksmanship would be required to keep the country safe, as well as assure the
survival of the individual soldier. How right they were! A soldier cannot become
a good marksman overnight, in one week, or even in the course of few weeks –
basic training is simply to provide rudimentary military skills required to get
men and materiel to the battle. Good marksmanship would be required to win the
battle, and a soldier should know the fundamentals before he ever join the
National Guard or the U.S. military.
President Roosevelt and Congress’ answer was to train civilians as marksmen –
consequently, a division of the army called The National Board for the
Promotion of Rifle Practice was formed. Initially it was not clear how the
marksmanship training was to be delivered to every state – the answer came from
gun owners who formed state rifle associations. On June 3, 1903, the Illinois
State Rifle Association was officially formed. Its purpose was to train
civilians in marksmanship skills, thus preparing them for the National Guard,
the U.S. military or as a better trained element of the “irregular militia.”
Since that time, we have trained thousands of marksmen who have answered the
call. Training civilians has worked, and worked well. It has been American
marksmanship that has turned the tide of battle against impossible odds.
The Germans found out how good the American marksmanship was in both WW I and WW
II; in WW II lessons were also given to the Italians and Japanese. The same
holds true for Korea, Red China, and Vietnam. On the way to Korea, some troops
were given their only marksmanship instruction while aboard the ship – there
wasn’t time during basic training. It was fortunate that some of them had been
trained before ever entering service.
When WW II broke out, American civilians answered the call – over 300,000
trained marksmen reported for duty. Some were too old for active combat, but not
too old to train new recruits – which they did. These soldiers, who were trained
in marksmanship as civilians, held the enemies of the United States back and
started us on the road to victory – a fact, the news media conveniently forgets.
The Illinois State Rifle Association did its part. Its members served in all
theaters in WW II, including Bataan and Corregidor, where excellent marksmanship
prevented the rapid take-over of the Philippine Islands, giving the United
States time to prepare for the war in the Pacific.
The mission of the Illinois State Rifle Association has not changed – only the
challenges have become more taxing. One of the greater challenges, on the
foreign front especially, is the way our enemies go about attacking us. The most
troubling though are our domestic adversaries – they want to disarm the
civilians of Illinois and to prevent us from shooting, hunting, collecting, or
even owning a firearm.
As we stand at the threshold of our second century, we are continuing to promote
marksmanship and gun safety, but our role is widening beyond our Founders’
wildest dreams. Politicians, whose actions 200 years ago formed us for the
protection of the United States, now betray us, as well as the ideals that made
this country great. Hunters are attacked by animal rights activists – and the
law protects those activists. Public hunting lands,
purchased by special taxes imposed on hunters, are now
closed to those same hunters; mayors and other politicians whose policies
have caused segments of our society to go out of control blame gun owners
for their failures; radical anti-gun organizations
partnering with major news media
seek to make gun ownership, sport shooting, hunting,
collecting, and even self-defense illegal
And who is still there, continually standing guard?
The Illinois State Rifle Association.
As you can see, we have come a long way since our
beginnings and we are still in the forefront fighting for freedom. If you
believe in personal freedom and want your children to have a fighting chance to
taste it, you should join the Illinois State Rifle Association. We would like to
have you as a member. You have made the right decision by joining the ISRA. We
hope you will go out of your way and recruit other members that you know will
have the same ideals and goals.