Janet Nyce is a quilter extraordinaire. She also makes mouth-watering cookies, and her grandkids love her for it. She’s cheerful, funny and everybody’s friend. But if a lawmaker threatens her Second Amendment rights, Nyce becomes tenacious, a grandmotherly tiger.
The long-time Pennsylvanian lives in the country outside Harrisburg, Pa., with her husband Jim. They’ve shared a life for 51 years, with much of that life revolving around firearms and time spent afield. They’ve been hunting and shooting together since shortly after they married, when Jim quietly suggested that, on the next hike, it might be fun to take the shotguns along.
Janet, a country girl who has always loved being outdoors, took to hunting and shooting in the same fashion she took to tree houses and getting tomboy dirty as a kid. Shooting and hunting became something she was good at, then passionate about, especially after she learned about misguided souls who felt that gun ownership and hunting should be abolished.
That’s when Janet Nyce “the advocate” came into being.
Janet the baker and quilter turned into an NRA advocate. She completed the training required to become a qualified firearms instructor. She became a member of Pennsylvania watchdog groups, keeping tabs on state hunting and firearms legislation. And she began to play a leading role in NRA women’s issues, especially those designed to mentor young people.
It wasn’t long before her name became synonymous with Pennsylvania gun issues. She helped unseat a state lawmaker who refused to clean up language in a poorly worded hunting bill. She led the fight, and continues to battle, for Sunday hunting in her home state. “Mema knows everybody,” Janet’s grandson likes to proclaim, a reputation the tireless crusader earned through long hours of public discourse. “They call me the closer,” Janet said, referring to the way organizations thrust her to the forefront at public hearings. When Janet Nyce speaks, people listen. She speaks with authority, common sense, and more than anything else, straight from the heart.
For most of their marriage, the Nyces had hunting property outside Harrisburg. About five years ago, Janet and Jim decided to “retire” to the country place and, for the first time in their lives, simply take it easy.
Janet told her husband she’d even give up her crusading. And she did—for about a year.
A sense of urgency called her back to the front lines of the Second Amendment struggle. Like Janet said, it was a summons from the future—a calling she needed to answer so that her grandchildren, and the generations that came after her grandchildren, would be able to enjoy the freedoms she treasures and has fought so hard to defend.
As Co-Chair of the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum, Janet has dedicated her life to teaching women about guns, spreading the gospel about the politics of firearms and, more than anything else, promoting the need to enjoy guns in a positive way.
“The Women’s Leadership Forum is a true gem within this vast organization,” she says. “Women tend to keep the family checkbook, they instill positive values in their children and, if we get the women, we get the family. And that keeps us strong.
“I love to see the enthusiasm women bring to these issues, especially after they discover they can truly make a difference. It’s like a rose that begins to bloom. Women bring a softer touch to the NRA. Mostly they’re so enthusiastic, outgoing and happy. People feel inclined to gravitate to someone like that.”
Susan LaPierre, Janet’s Women’s Leadership Forum Co-Chair, is quick to add that people feel inclined to gravitate to Janet Nyce. “Janet’s dedication, determination and work ethic is a perfect fit for this organization and the role she plays in it,” Susan points out. “I couldn’t have a better Co-Chair, and the Constitution couldn’t have a better champion.”
"We must support and educate our young people, because they're the future.Much of Janet’s efforts over the years have been in youth education and training. “We must support and educate our young people, because they’re the future,” she says. Janet has helped with programs that teach kids how to hunt, how to compete, even how to be an effective advocate for the right to keep and bear arms. “The Women’s Leadership Forum understands the need for youth involvement,” Janet says. “And, more than anything else, these women will do what it takes to protect these vital programs.”
Janet’s skillful, hands-on approach to hunting and shooting education results in standing-room-only attendance at local gun club educational events. And, if it’s a youth-oriented class, students get an extra earful from Pennsylvania’s favorite instructor. “I tell them, you’re not taking this course simply for your pleasure or benefit,” she says. “You’re taking it because someday I’m going to hand off the baton, and you’ll need to be ready. You’ll need to continue the fight when I’m no longer able, and that’s why you’re here—so that I can teach you, and give you the right tools.”
“The desire for handgun instruction around the country is just going through the roof,” Janet explains, adding that many of these first time gun owners are women. “A large number of these women are simply curious at first. Then, if you approach them correctly, they tend to exhibit a strong desire to excel at what we’re asking them to do. After the basic class, some may want to move on to another aspect of the shooting sports, maybe learning about shotguns and shooting sporting clays. Others may want to take the original course over again, so that they feel totally comfortable with the basics of owning and handling a gun. Mostly, we’ve got to remember that teaching women is not always the same as teaching men. Subtle factors come into play that can make a difference in whether or not a woman enjoys the experience, and then wants to learn more.”
Janet’s understanding of these subtleties, and her common-sense approach to teaching, has kept her classes full for years. But even a world-class shooting teacher needs a break now and then. For Janet Nyce, time out might mean a trip to Vermont, where she’ll huddle with a group of women brought together by a love of quilting.
However, for a woman who’s been known to hand out NRA brochures at truck stops, even a quilting retreat can’t totally distance her from the relentless task at hand. Janet’s most recent quilting retreat evolved into a discussion about firearms ownership, mediated by a granny from Pennsylvania wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Girls With Guns Have More Fun.”
By the end of the retreat, Janet had made new converts. But that’s just the way it is with the “gun lady” from Pennsylvania. Janet Nyce stands strong on her principles and values. And over time, sweetly, intelligently and with an ability to keep the argument rooted in common sense, she breaks down barriers.
When Janet talks to members of the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum, she sometimes uses a quilting analogy to point out how people from different backgrounds and walks of life come together to create something both beautiful and valuable. “We’re different,” she points out. “But we’re all Americans first and foremost, united by our desire to protect the Constitution.”
Next, Janet points out the power that comes through unity, and how that power can make a difference.
"It is people like Janet Nyce who embody the true meaning of the National Rifle Association."“We can change the world if we care enough,” she insists. “I love to watch first-time shooters overcome their negativity and fears. Women grow stronger as they learn about firearms. They discover something positive about themselves, and it’s a joy to watch that happen.”
“I want to leave a legacy for my grandchildren.” That is Janet’s simple, honest reply if you ask her why she’s worked so tirelessly, for so many years, to protect hunting rights and the Second Amendment. It’s also why this great woman, the one people say is first class in every aspect of her being, has so often been honored by the NRA.
Janet has won the Sybil Ludington Women’s Freedom Award, given for extraordinary dedication in preserving the Second Amendment. She also received the Marion P. Hammer Woman of Distinction Award for outstanding contributions to hunting ethics, conservation, recreational shooting, legislation and volunteerism in NRA programs.
Hammer, former NRA president and inspiration for the growing list of successful programs for women, may have said it best when she pointed out, “It is people like Janet Nyce who embody the true meaning of the National Rifle Association.” For more than five decades, this longtime NRA Life member, Ring of Freedom member and passionate defender of the right to keep and bear arms has lived, labored and upheld a simple credo: “No compromise when it comes to defending our constitutionally protected rights. That’s my commitment to my children and grandchildren, and I don’t intend to waver.”