How We Came To Be...

by Richard A. Pearson, ISRA Executive Director

2017 marked the 114th 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 or impossible. 

Join the ISRA Today! If not you, who? If not now, when?
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.