By Sharon Space-Bamberger
CALLICOON May 22, 2007 Over 250 supporters of the traditional American right to “keep and bear arms” that is included in the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America attended the third annual Sullivan County Chapter of the Friends of the NRA dinner on Saturday night at the Club at the Villa Roma in Callicoon.
Tickets to the fundraiser had been sold out for months.
Banquet activities included special drawings, raffles and live and silent auctions. The banquet attendees came for fun, fellowship, food and to hear Wayne LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, speak about the NRA’s efforts to protect the rights which are guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
Since its inception in 1992, the Friends of the NRA organization has raised more than $100 million nationwide through local fundraisers like Saturday evening’s Sullivan County event. The funds support programs related to firearm education and training, hunter safety, wildlife conservation, youth marksmanship and law enforcement.
The NRA recognizes that young people represent the future of shooting sports. In the past, NRA funds have helped the Sullivan County 4-H Shooting Sports Program, the Sullivan County High School Shooting Sports Club and the Liberty High School Rifle Club.
In addition, the Sullivan County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs’ 2007 Youth Exposition Day, which will be held later this year, will be partially funded by a NRA grant.
The Sullivan County Friends of NRA Committee, which includes Committee Officers Michael A. Gagliardi, Karl Van Valkenburg, Maura LaPiana and Russell Sniffen Jr., and Committee Volunteers John Van Etten, Joseph Siegel, Jim Hemmer, Leo Cecil, Siggy Paty, Jim Atkins, Elizabeth Sherwood, Marc Kogan, Dino LaPiana, Barbara Ann Schmidt, John Scanlon, Rich Girardi, Robert Siegel and Martha Gagliardi, gave special thanks to Jay Rusnock, the upstate New York NRA Field Representative, for his help in organizing the event.
Everyone on the committee worked non-stop to make the dinner a success.
“I haven’t been asleep for four days, the committee has been up for the last couple of nights,” Hemmer said.
In thanking the committee, Wayne LaPierre commented, “I know how much work it is to do one of these.”
The raffles, prizes, and auction items from generous donors caused the crowd to enter into a healthy bidding competition.
American Legacy donated a Sullivan County Commemorative Winchester Model 94 rifle which is No. 1 of only 25 that were made and Super Six donated a .45-caliber Six Shooter Classic revolver and Charter 2000 donated a Model 1876 Chaparral rifle.
“These companies really donated from their hearts,” said Leo Cecil, who solicited these firearms donations.
Ninety percent of the donations came from local community members and corporations such as Sullivan Structures of Fosterdale, which underwrote a Smith & Wesson .460-caliber revolver the 2007 NRA Gun of the Year, and Buddenhagen Ford of Hortonville, which underwrote “Echoes of Gold,” the 2007 NRA Print of the Year.
Among those in attendance was New York State Assemblywoman (98th district) and NRA member Aileen Gunther.
“This is a very important event,” she said. “The Gunther family has a long tradition of gun ownership and hunting.”
Other elected officials in attendance included Sullivan County Court Judge and Surrogate Burt Ledina, Sullivan County Court Judge and Surrogate Judge Frank LaBuda, Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Schiff, Sullivan County Undersheriff Eric Chaboty and Town of Bethel Justice Cynthia Barber.
Many of the aforementioned county officials are NRA members. For example, Sheriff Schiff has been a member since he was 18 years old, and Judge LaBuda joined the NRA when he was 19.
Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham signed up as an NRA member at the dinner, saying “I’ve been meaning to do this.”
The crowd gave a standing ovation when LaPierre came to the podium. The Executive Vice President joined the staff of the NRA in 1978 and has a master’s degree in American Government and Politics.
LaPierre spoke of what he considered were outrages perpetuated against our Second Amendment rights by our government.
“I know in New York you are right in the heart of the monster in terms of saving this freedom.”
LaPierre was making reference to the civil disarmament campaign of millionaire and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which could result in the ban of most sporting guns, including shotguns. He told the dinner guests to write to their Senators and Congressmen, urging them to defeat H.R.1022, a purported “assault weapons ban” that would ban any guns the U.S. Attorney General decides are not particularly suited to sporting purposes.
The top NRA representative also urged the audience members to support the reenactment of the Tiahrt Amendment, which limits gun-tracing data exclusively to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. LaPierre also spoke of the weapons of registered gun owners being confiscated during Hurricane Katrina, which left them without protection in Katrina’s lawless aftermath. He further noted the weapons were not returned until the NRA went to court.
“The administration has used the threat of terrorism to ban your gun,” he said.
“Do you know the government has the right to put a citizen on a ‘suspect list’ without due process and deny you the right to own a firearm?” he asked.
LaPierre also urged those in attendance to be politically active in order to protect the Second Amendment, saying, “all of you are the Sons and Daughters of the Boston Tea Spillers.”
The crowd and Villa Roma staff members then cheered him.