Ron Schmeits has spent much of his life helping people. The Nebraska born youngster enjoyed helping his family on the farm where he first learned to shoot and hunt. After college, Schmeits took a summer job at a bank, where he worked as a bank teller, and never looked back. He said as a banker he enjoyed helping people fulfill their financial dreams. A selfmade businessman, Schmeits moved to Raton, N.M., where he worked as a loan officer. Today he is president of the International Bank in Raton.
In addition to serving his customers, Schmeits derives great satisfaction from serving communities in New Mexico and Colorado. He is the past president of the Raton Chamber of Commerce, past city mayor and past president of the New Mexico Bankers Association. Schmeits served on the Governor’s Business Advisory Committee under four administrations as the past director of the University of New Mexico Foundation’s Finance Committee, and he is presently the chairman of the NRA Whittington Center Board of Trustees and of the NRA President’s Committee on Advancement.
Schmeits enjoys hunting and the shooting sports and has made them a family affair. He taught his children to shoot. He and his wife, Ann, visit the range often, nowadays with two of their six grandchildren in tow. Schmeits says he is the more accomplished shotgunner, but Ann beats him on the pistol range. Once they instilled an interest in the shooting sports within their family, Schmeits felt it was important to help others become involved as well.
Through his work mentoring youth at the NRA Whittington Center, Schmeits came to appreciate NRA’s efforts to preserve our firearm freedoms for future generations and decided to run for the NRA Board of Directors. Elected to the board in 2000, Schmeits went on to become NRA president in 2009. His focus as NRA president is to improve mentoring for tomorrow’s shooters and hunters through increased education and training, and to swell NRA’s ranks to new heights.
At what point did you make the connection between NRA and mainstream America?
I was born and raised in Nebraska where hunting and shooting were everyday activities. Later I moved east and then worked in downtown Minneapolis and met people who were afraid of
guns, didn’t understand hunting and never gave much thought to their rights as American citizens. Fortunately, our forefathers did think way ahead with regard to the Second Amendment. I realized we have a responsibility to educate and inform the general public about hunting, conservation and shooting.
What inspired you to run for the NRA Board of Directors?
It hit me when I moved to Raton 25 years ago and started working with the NRA Whittington Center. It dawned on me that to protect shooting sports for citizens across the United States
we have to stand up for what we believe in. I was asked to serve on the NRA Finance Committee and from there I realized that doing your part means you have to go to work. So I decided to run and soon was asked to serve in leadership roles. Explain what happens when some gun owners don’t get involved because they think certain legislation won’t affect them. Some people don’t look at what can happen. Whether federal, state or local, some laws or regulations can ultimately curtail our rights. I look at that as a cancer. A cancerous growth starts small, but if you don’t do something, it will consume you and take your life. So it is with every little thing that chips away at our freedom—ultimately it can cause us to lose our freedom to hunt and shoot.
What are the biggest hurdles facing NRA today?
More organizations that want to restrict or eliminate our Second Amendment rights are starting up all the time. On the surface they may appear non-threatening, but in the end their agenda is to do away with our freedom. So we have to stay alert, and we have to raise the resources to fight for our freedoms and also to educate people about what we actually stand for and what we do. That’s our challenge.
What is NRA’s greatest strength?
It lies with our members, no question. Every member is blessed in his or her own way, and many share their time and/or wealth supporting us. And beyond actual paying members, there are an estimated 25 million people who are former members or who believe in our cause. I look at all those people out there who count on NRA to protect their rights. That’s our strength. It’s in members and in numbers.
What is your vision for NRA and NRA’s leadership for the future?
NRA must continue to lead the way through training. Right now we’re working with new ideas because people are changing. So our training and outreach have to change as society changes. Accordingly, we will continue to move into new competitive disciplines and into new programs where there is great interest, like personal protection. Of course we will continue with our traditional youth training and shooting programs, and we have to be even more aggressive because that’s our future generation. That’s why our Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program and Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) program are so extremely important, and why we’ve developed stronger relationships with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, Future Farmers of America and other youth groups.
As an NRA officer, you have met countless members from across the country. In your opinion, what defines an NRA member?
NRA members are freedom-loving American citizens who want to have the ability to exercise all the rights guaranteed them in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That’s pretty broad but, simply put, we are freedom-loving Americans.
How do you get others interested in taking advantage of NRA training programs and shooting competitions?
The biggest thing is to promote involvement. You need to take that someone to the range, help him or her take that first step and then continue to ask them to participate with you. For some people it’ll take only once; for others it’ll take several times to develop that interest. Once they’re on the range, they see what they can do—hitting the bullseye, breaking a clay bird, knocking over that metal target—and they are having fun. When we do our part, more than likely they’ll want to come back.
You are known as a keen hunter. Why do you hunt?
I can sum that up in three points. I thoroughly enjoy being in the outdoors. I love the challenge hunting offers, no matter what type of game or style of hunting. The third thing is the camaraderie you have with the people who are sharing in the adventure. NRA has always said hunters are the first conservationists.
What does that mean to you?
If it weren’t for hunters spending their money on licenses and tags, along with the excise taxes on guns and ammunition, the conservation system that today ensures healthy wildlife populations across America would never have gotten off the ground. And from a more hands-on perspective, hunters harvesting game is a key part of wildlife management.
What has prompted you to be a big advocate for NRA youth activities like the Adventure Camps and YHEC?
It’s always a pleasure to work with young boys and girls. I look at them, especially those in the Adventure Camps, and they’re the finest, most pleasant individuals you can possibly find. They say, “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.” I’ve had many parents come up to me and say that Tommy or Susan came home and wanted to help with chores and were eager to do things they didn’t do before. That’s the future generation of this country. I’d like to see these programs expand substantially because it helps those youngsters to mature and successfully assume responsibility.
What is your best advice on how to help kids get involved in hunting and shooting?
Kids need a mentor when it comes to firearms because they have to learn safety above and beyond anything else. Those who live in shooting and hunting families are blessed with a natural opportunity, but there are other kids who don’t have opportunities, and adult shooters have to take responsibility. Invite a kid to the range, show him or her what shooting is all about. Consider where or how you can provide the opportunity for a youngster. Maybe it’s a single-parent family and that parent isn’t able to take the children shooting. It’s a challenge every NRA member should take upon him or herself—help bring the next generation into shooting and hunting.