Last year, the Coleman County Friends of NRA committee accomplished something achieved only by 25% of all of the organization's FNRA groups. By raising over $25,000 at the 2013 banquet, they were recognized as attaining High Caliber Status. 

Now in their sixth year, the group has grown their banquet from less than one hundred attendees to over 225. This year's banquet was completely sold out, the week before it was held.

Jack Cannon is a senior field representative, in the field operations division of the NRA and is assigned to West Texas. Cannon served as the master of ceremonies for the Saturday night banquet. 

"This is the 22nd year of Friends of NRA, with the first banquet held in Columbia, Missouri," Cannon said, "We now have 15,000 events in all 50 states."

Since the beginning, Friends of NRA groups, like those in Coleman and Brownwood, have raised over $230 million. The banquet attendees have exceeded 2.8 million. As a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the funds raised are returned in the form of grants, to many shooting and firearm safety related programs. Half of all funds raised within a given state are used to fund programs within that state. The remainder supports national programs.

The grants fund many youth activities, including a home air gun program, firearm safety, youth shooting sports in 4-H, Scouts, Junior ROTC and more, special shooting camps, essay and wildlife art contests, and youth hunter education courses. The FNRA supports other NRA programs such as women's shooting sports and education, firearms ranges, shooting competitions, adult hunter safety and educational courses, and the National Firearms Museum. Monies are also used to fund law enforcement firearms training programs, certification of instructors, and police shooting competitions.

In all, the NRA Foundation funds 180 different programs.

The NRA's Eddie Eagle program is also funded by these events, having reached over 26 million children, from pre-K through third grade, since its inception in 1988. The program is dedicated to teaching firearm safety and is designed to be used as a stand-a-lone course or incorporated with existing school curriculum. Eddie Eagle, the mascot, is used to teach children the most basic of firearm safety - "If you see a gun: STOP!, Don't Touch, Leave the Area, Tell an Adult." No firearms are used in the course. In fact, Eddie Eagle is never shown touching a firearm and the mascot is not permitted anywhere firearms are present. The program doesn't promote firearm ownership and "makes no value judgements about firearms." 

According to Cannon, $1.6 million has been returned to the West Texas region, to date, in the form of NRA Foundation grants.

Speaking about the Coleman County group, Cannon said, "This committee is one of the best at getting donations from local merchants."

Throughout the night, banquet guests had the opportunity to place bids on silent auction items, ranging from firearms to art, and everything between. Rex Tackett, general manager of Wendlee Broadcasting in Brownwood and Coleman, served as auctioneer for the live auction, with his unique ability to prompt bidders into placing one last bid and gain as much as he possibly can for the given charity. The auction included the NRA's 2014 Gun of the Year, which was actually a matched pistol set, including a Colt XSE Governemnt Model .45 and a colt .380 Mustang Pocketlite. The pistols have matching serial numbers and are custom etched with the NRA logo. 

Popular raffles of the evening included the Wall of Firearms and the 10 Guns in 10 Minutes. The first had five separate raffles, over the course of the night, with only 50 $20 tickets sold for each. As soon as the tickets were sold out, the drawing was held and the winner had the option to choose from more than 30 guns on a list. The next was 10 drawings for 10 guns. Each ticket provided the holder 10 opportunities to have his or her ticket drawn from the bucket. 

Weakley Watson Sporting Goods donated a 36-gun safe, for which only 30 tickets were sold, at $100 each. Additionally, the committee placed an unidentified firearm inside the safe. Cecil Drake, of Abilene, had the winning ticket, taking home the safe and a Springfield XDS pistol.

The Heart of Texas Friends of the NRA, from Brownwood, has scheduled their banquet for August 8, at the Brownwood Coliseum. Tickets and sponsor tables reservations will soon be available, but now is the time to start saving for the raffles and auctions. Watch the Brownwood Bulletin for more information, as it is made available.

For more information on Friends of NRA visit their website at www.friendsofnra.org.