"Imagine if the NRA's activities were like the Nobel Prizes," said NRA former President Ron Schmeits, "in the sense that they could be funded in perpetuity by the interest alone on endowment."
Schmeits is on one of his frequent visits to the NRA's 51-square-mile Whittington Center, just a few miles from his home, when he says this, and it's a fitting backdrop for such a statement.
After all, the activities at Whittington Center—world-renowned as the finest shooting and hunting facility on the planet—are funded entirely and exclusively through dedicated donations. No NRA membership funds are used for its operation.
Schmeits continues: "If we could cover the NRA's expenses solely through the interest from endowments, we could dedicate membership funds to expanding our outreach, we'd be prepared for any storm, and we could continue serving the cause of freedom in perpetuity."
He squints into the sun as it hangs lower in the northwest, slowly setting into the Sangre de Cristos. "Think of what a difference we could make for future Americans and their freedoms."
Ron Schmeits' sunny view of freedom and the future may be a reflection of his small-town Midwest upbringing, his neighborly and humble nature, and his evident gratitude for blessings that freedom has afforded him and his family.
He grew up on a ranch in the sand hills of Nebraska, where his first firearm, at the age of 9, was a secondhand rifle in .22 Short.
As he grew older, Schmeits progressed to hunting upland game with his father—a passion he carries to this day. "I think pheasant hunting is my favorite," he says. "The noise and surprise of the flushing bird—that's a big part of it. But it's also the camaraderie, the enjoyment of being out in Mother Nature at its best."
“If it wasn’t for the NRA and the freedoms we protect, we wouldn’t have 18 million hunters and 80 million gun owners in this country."
In college at the University of Nebraska and grad school at Rutgers in New Jersey, Schmeits had to relegate his hunting to the weekends, but he didn't leave the passion behind. Indeed, when he took a job in a Nebraska bank after college, one of the best benefits of his "bankers' hours" was that he could hunt pheasant in the mornings before donning a suit and tie at the bank.
Even today, after 25 years of living in New Mexico—which has few opportunities for upland game hunting—Schmeits still manages to make it to Iowa for opening day of pheasant most years, and to pursue ringnecks or bobwhites across much of the Midwest.
"Sometimes you have to travel a bit, but if I have to drive half the night, it's well worth it," he says.
Now Schmeits hunts antelope, mule deer, elk, bear, mountain lion and even African game, and he's often accompanied by his wife, Ann, who likes to document their hunts on film to revisit and relive again.
Like Ron, Ann grew up on a ranch—in her case, in northern New Mexico—where her family raised cattle and where hunting was as much a part of nature as the seasons.
Today, after raising four children, Ron and Ann often take time out for some recreational shooting and family friendly competition.
"I like shotgun shooting—skeet, trap, sporting clays—but I can't keep up with Ron," Ann says.
Ron laughs. "She royally beats me when it comes to pistol shooting, though. You don't want to stand in front of her."
Whether hunting, shooting, photographing or just enjoying nature, Ron and Ann clearly love the outdoors. "They've got two cabins up in the back of Whittington, and at least once a summer, we try to get our four-wheelers and ride up there for a weekend," Ann says. "We just really have a good time up there."
Ron Schmeits might be an outdoorsman at heart, but he also likes getting under the hood and behind the wheel of classic American sports cars.
His collection started with a 1956 Corvette and 1955 Thunderbird ("I liked the idea of covering General Motors and Ford at the same time," he says.) and quickly expanded to include everything from a 1918 Ford pickup that Ron says "runs like a top," to 25th-and-50th Anniversary Corvettes, to a 1963 Corvette that Ron and his son are currently restoring.
"After being at the bank all day, it's nice to work with your hands," Ron says of his work on the cars. "Even just getting on the lawnmower helps clean your head."
Recently, Ron and Ann added a new car to the stable.
"I talked with my son and asked him whether he thought I should get another old 'Vette to restore or a newer one," Ron says. "I think he was looking out for himself because he said, 'You ought to get a new one.'"
Ann chimes in, "I told him, 'If you buy it, you've got to drive it,' and he does. It's a fun car!"
For a family that clearly thrives on many of the blessings of a good life in a beautiful place to live, Ron and Ann also view the Second Amendment, and their dedication to the cause, with serious, if quiet, concern.
"If you value your freedom—whether it's the Second Amendment, the First Amendment or any of the freedoms in the Bill of Rights—I think you need to seriously consider supporting the NRA and Ring of Freedom," Ann says.
Ron puts it more bluntly: "If it wasn't for the NRA and the freedoms we protect, we wouldn't have 18 million hunters and 80 million gun owners in this country. Those who benefit from this freedom need to realize that they can't rely on someone else to protect that freedom for them. They need to get involved."
And with that, he lays out the broad outlines of his twin-pronged challenge, as president of the NRA, to the Association, its members and freedom-loving patriots everywhere:
Raise the value of NRA's endorsements to $250 million, and
Raise a war chest of $35 million to fund current projects.
"I believe we should leave this world a little better than we found it," Schmeits says.
"If you're able to support a cause you believe in—whether it's with your talent, your time or your money—you ought to do so, and you ought to be recognized. For those who have been blessed with the ability to support firearm freedom financially, there may be no better way to do so than through Ring of Freedom."