Students who attended Turning Point USA’s event on April 2 found country music, pizza and the paperwork for a free year-long membership with the National Rifle Association waiting for them.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s TPUSA chapter hosted Sarah Hitchcock — the NRA’s grassroots coordinator for Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas — for an educational presentation on the Second Amendment’s history and current NRA efforts to secure gun rights.
Kiara Kearney, the chapter’s president and a sophomore international business and advertising and public relations double major, said NRA University reached out to Malia Shirley, TPUSA’s field representative for the Nebraska-Kansas region, for the chance to speak at UNL.
“One of the biggest pieces of my job is collegiate presentations,” Hitchcock said. “We come, we bring food and we talk about guns.”
Her presentation began with the history of the NRA, which she said was founded in 1871 to educate people and give training on guns. Then, in 1975, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action was founded with a single issue in mind: gun rights.
“It’s easy to classify us as the lobbying piece, but you can’t forget what the NRA as a whole does 99% of the time, which is training and education,” Hitchcock said. “We are the standard for firearm training and education.”
According to its website, the NRA’s political action committee ranks politicians based on their voting records, public statements and responses to a detailed NRA questionnaire before deciding which candidates it will support. Hitchcock said this process is entirely nonpartisan.
“We happen to endorse majority Republicans because, yeah, Republicans by and large are the ones supporting gun rights,” she said. “Believe it or not, I think Bernie Sanders had a D rating back in the day. It’s now an F. Like, a super F.”
Looking ahead, the NRA is looking for politicians who will support its large goals. Hitchcock mentioned the push for carry laws that are consistent across the nation so concealed carry permits could be valid from state to state.
“We want to treat concealed carry licenses like driver’s licenses,” she said.
Those and other gun rights policies sit at the top of the to-do list for Travis Couture-Lovelady, a state director for the NRA and former member of the Kansas House of Representatives, who works with legislation on a daily basis.
At the event, he said lobbyists are currently working to encourage a state preemption of local gun laws in Nebraska. The preemption regulations would remove regulatory power from Nebraska’s lower-level governments, and streamline carry guidelines throughout the state.
Nebraska’s gun-rights activists have been heartened by the halt of a bill proposing a red-flag law, but Couture-Lovelady said the unicameral legislature makes it hard to make big policy changes.
The unicameral requires 33 of its 49 senators to approve legislation before it moves forward. Before the last midterm election, Couture-Lovelady said 31 senators consistently affirmed policies supporting gun rights, but now gun activists have 25 lawmakers on their side.
He said this system would make it nearly impossible for Nebraska to pass a policy like the right to concealed carry on college campuses.
“This is really tough,” Couture-Lovelady said. “Even in the good states, it’s really hard to get it done.”
But Hitchcock said the issue’s importance still rings through its controversy.
“The government says you’re an adult at 18,” she said. “You can vote, you can go in the army, you can do what you want — except carry a firearm, because you’re not adult enough to do that.”
Couture-Lovelady said he sees the NRA focusing on self-defense basics for the next decade by protecting laws supporting assault rifles, ammunition regulations and carry permits.
After discussing policy goals, Hitchcock returned the presentation to what she said is the NRA’s primary mission: education.
“I’m not going to ask you if you’re pro gun or not; to anyone who may not be a Second Amendment supporter: that’s totally fine,” she said. “But if you want to legislate on these issues, please do your homework and know what you’re talking about.”
Kearney said the standing-room only event was just the beginning for TPUSA at UNL. After the club’s rough start last year, she said she hopes to build on Nebraska’s conservative base to form one of the biggest chapters of the national organization.
“We want more people banding together,” she said. “We want people to be able to talk with each other and realize they’re not alone as conservatives on campus.”