NRA Ring of Freedom | Don and Susan Kriley

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Don and Susan Kriley in their North Carolina home.

FIREARMS EPIPHANY

Spurs Second Amendment Activism

Susan Kriley poses for a picture in her living room.Susan Kriley poses for a picture in her living room.

For Susan Kriley, a well-placed shot results in life-changing new directions. Guns and hunting weren’t exactly alien to Susan Kriley. After all, the native Chicagoan grew up in a family of hunters. 

Mostly, guns were just a guy thing, and the Eastern Illinois University graduate focused on the world she felt more familiar with, one that included successful business ventures and her life partnership with husband Don.

Then something happened after the Krileys retired to their present home in Morrisville, N.C. Don, a seasoned and enthusiastic outdoorsman, accepted a National Rifle Association invitation to spend three weeks hunting in Africa. For Susan, it was an opportunity to accompany her husband to an exotic locale, see the sights, maybe do some shopping.

Once in Africa, Don Kriley headed into the bush while Susan drove into town to admire locally made ostrich skin boots and handbags. And that’s when the germ of an idea began to ferment. Why not, Susan thought, harvest my own ostrich hide here, on the spot, and have boots made to order?

But first she’d have to learn how to shoot a gun.

Back at camp, a professional guide set up a target, showed Susan how to aim and operate a rifle, and then stepped back. Susan’s first shot nicked the edge of the bull’s-eye circle. The second struck dead center, and hours later Susan was in a truck, on the trail of the basic ingredients for her recently wished-for custom boots.

The African safari was in 2011. Since then the NRA Life member has been a passionate advocate for gun ownership, hunting, shooting and her constitutionally protected Second Amendment rights. The switch to NRA advocacy came easily to this Illinois native. Susan has always been a spirited, independent-minded individual, proud of her ability to make her own way in the world, distrustful of government efforts to marginalize personal liberties.

"I don’t believe the government has a right to interfere ..."

Therefore she’s always believed in the Second Amendment. It just wasn’t as personal as it became when she returned home from Africa. At that point, Susan knew she needed to dedicate herself to Second Amendment activism, “because it was clearly the right thing to do.”

So Susan went from being a non-hunting, non-gun owning, non-shooting retiree to an avid hunter, gun owner, personal protection proponent and, in 2012, a member of the National Rifle Association’s Women’s Leadership Forum Executive Committee.

That’s a big leap for a woman who rarely thought much about guns, shooting and firearms advocacy until a time in her life when most people are idling down rather than rolling up their sleeves in anticipation of a new personal adventure. For Susan, defense of the Second Amendment has been akin to a life’s calling with a later than usual starting date.

“I don’t believe the government has a right to interfere in constitutionally protected Second Amendment issues,” she says. “I’ve always felt strongly about the need to protect our individual freedoms, and now that I’ve become involved with guns, hunting and the NRA, these feelings have grown more weighted, more personal.”

These growing personal convictions fueled Don and Susan’s desire to contribute personally to the NRA and future generations of gun owners, hunters and shooters. At the same time, Susan urges others to follow in her footsteps and provide a solid financial base for this important cause.

“Some are able to give money, and that’s certainly important considering the expense involved in protecting our firearm freedoms,” Susan says. “But everyone can give something of themselves. Volunteering one’s personal time is critically important as well, and if we all work together at all levels and walks of life, we can make a vital difference in the defense of the Second Amendment.”

Susan poses with one of husband Don’s trophies, a sable antelope taken on their African safari.

Susan holds her Blaser R93 rifle, in front of the white springbok that she shot in Africa.

The way Susan Kriley sees it, firearms issues are an extension of the fight to protect and preserve individual liberty in this country. She feels it’s a battle that’s continued since the Founding Fathers first signed the Declaration of Independence—a centuries-long struggle to retain liberty as the guiding light in our everyday lives.

“Certainly Second Amendment issues are but a part of this ongoing struggle to preserve the Constitution, but in recent times they’ve become a defining part,” Susan says. “These are the times the NRA has been warning us about for years, and there’s no room for retreat. I’m just glad that I can contribute and continue to make a difference, because what we do today is so important for future generations.”

Susan’s newfound interest in guns, hunting and issues surrounding the same has been a boon not only to the Mrs. of the family, but for the Mr. as well. Don’s hunting trips are no longer considered singular. Today they’re booked double occupancy, and those once-rare flights across the Atlantic are growing increasingly commonplace.

Another journey to Africa is in the offing, and this time Susan has her sights set on four-legged prey. She plans to return with a completely different look in decorative trophies. And now more than a year has passed since Susan discovered another firearm-related passion. Her quest to obtain a concealed handgun carry permit introduced her to the sport of handgun shooting. It was, like hunting, love at first recoil and muzzle blast.

"I’ve watched while the media spreads so many falsehoods about guns and gun owners."

During the year that followed, Susan acquired three Smith & Wesson handguns that, considering the way she describes each, are her new best friends forever. And, considering her natural-born ability to place a bullet exactly where she’s aiming, there’s little doubt these crime battlers are in capable hands.

At the same time, Susan is a capable crusader as well, a woman determined to tell the story of her conversion to hunting, shooting and the need to protect what she considers the most basic of individual rights. 

It may have been a late transformation, but the Susan Kriley of 2013 is a woman ready to go on the road, spreading the gospel of private firearm ownership and constitutionally protected rights.

“I’ve learned so much in the past two years, much of it the basic knowledge needed to become a safe, responsible gun owner,” Susan says. “At the same time I’ve watched while the media spreads so many falsehoods about guns and gun owners. Much of the anti-gun reporting lacks basic simple truths, especially when it comes to how firearms work, things like bullets and ballistics. But if they told the truth, their case would crumble.”

So Susan and her newfound NRA allies have plans to make sure the truth reaches the people with a need to know: the hard-working, freedom-loving American public. Change has been in the air in the Kriley household ever since Susan stepped out of a truck in the African bush and dropped an ostrich in its tracks—no simple feat for a woman who’d never handled a rifle. Back in camp the guide marked her cheeks with the blood of her quarry—an ageless African ritual.

The blood washed away, but not the sense of connectedness that stirred Susan Kriley to become more than just a casual gun owner and defender of the Second Amendment. At that moment she became a warrior—and gun owners around the world gained a friend for life.

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