Local NRA community: Education and responsible gun ownership are key to safety

By Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

HOUSTON - President Donald Trump's presence at the National Rifle Association convention refueled the fire for local NRA members who are weighing in over the debate on gun control.

Local NRA members said restricting gun sales and keeping trained teachers from carrying is not an effective solution to keep children safe. They said educating adults and children about gun safety and responsible gun ownership is a better tactic.

Two months ago, Trump, after meeting with Florida school shooting survivors, promised stricter gun laws.

"It's been going on for too long. Too many instances, and we're going to get it done," Trump said to the families of the victims.

This week in Dallas, Trump, a keynote speaker at the 2018 NRA Convention, took a different stance on gun control.

"We strongly believe in allowing highly trained teachers (carrying) concealed weapons -- they're highly trained," Trump said.

His comments were met with applause from supporters at the convention. 

"There is no sign more inviting to a mass killer than a sign that declares -- 'This school is a gun-free zone. Come in and take us,'" Trump continued.

It is a position on gun control that brought criticism from protests outside the convention. Houston Independent School District's board president said arming teachers wasn't something school officials would consider.

"It is not something that our teachers or our teachers union are advocating for," said HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones. "I don't know of any person in the district who thinks the best way to avoid an active shooter is to have an active shootout."

Local NRA instructors and firearm shop executives believe otherwise.

"The only thing that's going to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, so the more good guys with a gun that are willing and able to protect other people is probably the best way to go," said Travis James, vice president of operations at The Arms Room, an indoor range in Dickinson.

Heidi Rao is a NRA Training Counselor who teaches instructors. 

"All of us who are out here teaching on the ground level and the grassroots level -- we all have the same message. It's all about safety and responsibility, and protecting our Second Amendments rights and teaching kids -- especially our youth -- how to use firearms safely, responsibly, and to be proud of that heritage," Rao said.

Rao said taking away guns won't make children more safe. She believes teaching and learning is empowering.

"The younger you can put guns in responsible kids' hands the better," Rao said. "We have trained our boys since they could hold a firearm appropriate for their age. They started out shooting .22 rifles and once we built that confidence and built that safety -- they are all about safety."

Her 8-year-old son, Luke, has known how to operate firearms for years. He demonstrated shooting a Smith & Wesson MP15-22 at the Dickinson range.

His three other brothers, John, 11, Matthew, 14 and Dominic, 15, also know how to shoot, operate a firearm and teach others about gun safety.

"They just taught me all the safety rules. Point the gun range at all times. Keep your finger off the trigger, load in the ammo when you're ready to fire," Matthew said.

"More people need to know about (firearms and firearm safety), not a lot of people know about it now," Dominic said. "If you're alone at a friend's house and you find a gun, you need to know how to take care of it and keep it safe ... I've learned about it ever since I was little for as long as I can remember."

Rao and her husband, who are both NRA training counselors, said the NRA has been trying to educate people about gun safety for years.

"The NRA is the oldest firearms organization, founded in 1871, and they are all about educating people and being safe and responsible with those firearms. The NRA's primary purpose from way back was to put firearms in trains, responsible youth hands. So they are the first ones ... to start youth programs," Rao said.

Rao said the right to bears arms is an American heritage that should be celebrated instead of feared. She said much of the fear of guns is from a lack of education.

"Education is paramount. Without education, you don't have the knowledge, and you have irresponsibility," Rao said. "So, you have to get educated -- even if you don't have firearms or if you're not knowledgeable or you never grew up with firearms but you have a family, [those children] will be exposed (to firearms), maybe not through you ... If you get them educated by responsible instructors ... who know how to break down those barriers and empower them with knowledge, you're going to make for a better student."

Rao said her family is looking for leaders who will promote that philosophy. Retired Lt. Col. Oliver North was named the president of the NRA, and the family says they are very happy with that choice. 

"I love him," Rao said. "I think he's a great war hero and a great advocate of our Second Amendment."

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