When I became an Army officer in 1967, I spent part of one of my first paychecks on a life membership in the National Rifle Association. Though I ate sparingly for the rest of the month, that remains one of my proudest investments.

I became a small-arms instructor and have fired every weapon the Army had at the time, up to and including a 105mm tank cannon, so I have some familiarity with weaponry.

That’s why I was a bit puzzled when a Cape Elizabeth man who was unhappy with the NRA said some odd things in a recent interview with this paper. Warren Roos was quoted as saying he was resigning from the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club because NRA membership was a requirement to belong.

I used to be a Spurwink member, and I support the club’s stand, as the NRA is a major supporter of the shooting sports and defender of our civil liberties.

The anti-gun-rights movement remains well-funded if not very popular in Maine (letters to the editor seem to come almost exclusively from its hired representatives), so it needs to be resisted for freedom’s sake.

Recall that the Founders considered the right to own and use firearms so important they gave it second place in the Bill of Rights, right after freedom of speech and religion.

Of course, Roos has the absolute right to reject the NRA. But the story attributed to him some debatable statements about it.

It said Roos objected to the NRA’s “blanket advocacy of gun ownership rights.” But the group supports laws aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of felons, the mentally incompetent and children too young to learn to use them properly under adult supervision.

Still, the right to own weapons applies to all Americans who do not fall into those categories, so it is a “blanket” right, like freedom of speech or a trial by jury.

The story said Roos’ “main complaint with the NRA is its lobbying to block laws that would restrict high-capacity ammunition magazines and semi-automatic guns, which he believes are only useful for shooting people. By contrast, he said, rifles are ‘sporting guns and not guns for shooting people.’“

It’s hard to believe a member of a shooting club could be that confused about firearms, but that was the quote.

In truth, while the NRA certainly takes those stands, it does so because the rationale behind former (now overturned) laws against such magazines and some semi-automatic weapons (but only based on cosmetic features, leaving many other semi-autos exempt) was illogical and discriminatory in the extreme.

Roos doesn’t seem to know that many sporting arms are semi-autos or that hunting is only one part of recreational shooting. Target competition is a hugely popular sport, and Aroostook County hosts a major training center for biathlon shooters, some of whom have represented the United States in the Olympics.

(True, a biathlete was killed in Fort Fairfield in 2009 while training for the sport. But not by a gun — he was struck by a car while roller-skiing on a public highway. Some dangers are more dangerous than other dangers, it seems.)

Second, Roos appears to think that firearms exist only for sporting purposes. However, self-defense is a basic human right, and the value of firearms for that purpose cannot be denied. Americans use guns many times every day for defensive purposes.

Just this past New Year’s Eve, a young widow in Oklahoma with a baby at home made the national news by defending herself and her child with a shotgun and pistol when two men, one armed with a knife, pounded on her door and then broke in before the police she had called could arrive.

One of the home invaders discovered his action to be a fatal mistake, and the other has been charged with a felony for participating in a crime that resulted in a homicide.

This homicide was self-defense, of course, so the mother faces no charges. But imagine if she not been armed. Or check into what has happened to unarmed women who trusted in a court order or a distant police officer to protect them from vengeful ex-spouses or boyfriends.

“When seconds count, the police are only minutes away” is a popular slogan because it is a true one. So is the one that answers the question, “Why carry a gun?” with the reply, “Because a police officer is too heavy.”

Owning a firearm — and learning to use it responsibly — is an individual decision, but millions of Americans (men and women alike) have made it.

It is also a basic right that our highest courts have recently upheld. Those who disagree do not have your freedom or safety in mind.

The NRA, on the other hand, does.

M.D. Harmon is a retired journalist and freelance writer. He can be contacted at:

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