Former President Theodore Roosevelt was the “founding father” of the NRA National Matches*. Teddy Roosevelt believed the world was a dangerous place. To assure peace, Roosevelt believed that America needed to be prepared to fight. At the Opening Ceremony of the 2011 NRA National Championships, Dr. Joseph W. Westphal, Under Secretary of the U.S. Army, echoed the views of Roosevelt, who believed “The first step in the direction of preparation to avert war, if possible, and to be fit for war, if it should come, is to teach men to shoot.”
“Though the world has changed considerably in the last century, it is just as unsettled as it was when President Roosevelt established this competition in 1903,” Dr. Westphal said. Roosevelt, who served as an Army colonel during the Spanish-American War, witnessed firsthand how unprepared U.S. soldiers were victimized in battle. Despite winning the conflict, the U.S. suffered disproportionate casualties due to the lack of firearms training.
In his speech at Camp Perry, Dr. Westphal observed that President Roosevelt was a strong advocate of marksmanship training:
“Reflecting with regret on the casualties the U.S. took in the Spanish-American War, President Roosevelt said: ‘The great body of our citizens shoot less as time goes on. We should encourage rifle practice among schoolboys and indeed among all classes as well as in the military services, by every means of our power. Thus and not otherwise may we be able to assist in preserving peace in the world. The first step in the direction of preparation to avert war, if possible, and to be fit for war, if it should come, is to teach men to shoot.’ “
Westphal Invokes History
at Camp Perry Ceremonies
Westphal cautioned that we should not forget the lessons of the past: “So I bring these old historic notes of long-forgotten battles, not because they are curiosities, but because they remind us of why Americans began gathering here over a century ago. It was because they knew the terrible consequences of not being ready for war. In establishing the National Matches at Camp Perry, they promoted the importance of marksmanship in the nation’s defense.”
“Today the Civilian Marksmanship Program trains some 400 marksmanship instructors a year. In addition, 200,000 to 300,000 young people and adults receive training in marksmanship and firearms safety through clubs and junior ROTC,” Westphal said. “The thousands of competitors who will take part in these matches follow on the heels of millions who have benefited directly … from the marksmanship training and safety programs promoted here.”
*In February 1903, an amendment to the War Department Appropriations Bill established the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP). This government advisory board became the predecessor to today’s Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and Firearms Safety, Inc. that now governs the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). The 1903 legislation also established the National Matches, commissioned the National Trophy and provided funding to support the Matches. This historic legislation grew out of a desire to improve military marksmanship and national defense preparedness. President Theodore Roosevelt, Secretary of War Elihu Root and NRA President General Bird Spencer were among the most important supporters of this act.
Story based on report by Steve Cooper in CMP First Shot Online Magazine.