Every year in July, students nation-wide embark on a week-long journey to Washington, D.C., for the National NRA Youth Education Summit (Y.E.S.). Beginning with introductions and icebreaker activities on the first day, and continuing with teamwork for formal debates and current events discussions throughout the week, participants meet and build relationships with peers from around the country.
As the group takes in the inspiring sights around the D.C. area, the Y.E.S program brings history textbooks to life and encourages students to explore their interests in the fields of military, politics, and the shooting sports. From museum visits and meetings with congressmen, to honoring the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery and shooting at the NRA Range, the week’s activities center around these common themes.
Every experience during Y.E.S. connects to history in some way. The NRA National Firearms Museum, which is visited on NRA Day, features firearms from wars and impactful periods in America’s past. Students who already had a strong interest in and knowledge about firearms history have the opportunity to share their passion with others on this day. The NRA National Firearms Museum also provides the first encounter with history in their Washington, D.C. trip. Each turn reveals a new room and a new realm of firearm ingenuity. From old flintlocks and a rifle used by John Wayne in filming, to the types of firearms used by our servicemen and women today, students watch the evolution of firearms unfold before their eyes.
Following the trip to the NRA Museum, students visit the NRA Range. While some participants come to Y.E.S. with little to no shooting experience, many bring a background and enthusiasm for the shooting sports with them when they attend. “When I came to Y.E.S., for the first time in my life I was in a place where I didn’t have to explain what competitive shooting was,” said Emily from Wisconsin. “Sure, I had to explain some of the specific clay target disciplines, but in this group, it wasn’t abnormal to be a competitive shooter. On day one, it already felt like home.” After receiving a safety briefing and eye and ear protection, all of the students spread out across the lanes and take turns shooting a variety of special pistols and rifles. For some students, this is one of their first shooting experiences; for others, this is just another afternoon.
Afterwards, heads of various NRA departments explain how the NRA works to promote firearm safety and education. Students leave their visit to NRA Headquarters equipped with the tools they need to bring programs such as Eddie Eagle and Refuse to be a Victim back to their own communities.
The branches of the federal government the students visit have preserved Americans’ rights and freedoms since the establishment of the Constitution. The memorials they visit remind the students of some of the greatest leaders, heroes, and defenders of freedom in American history. From the Lincoln Memorial where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, to the fountain at the World War II Memorial, each place strikes students with reverence and respect.
“One thing that struck me is that we have never gone to conquer, but rather to liberate others or to defend ourselves,” said Stephen from Texas. “Most people don’t have the freedoms of Americans, and these monuments are devoted to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives so that others can experience those freedoms, and so that we may continue to experience ours.”
During the summit, students are given a firsthand look at the institutions and procedures involved in the democratic process of American politics. Students meet with Congressmen who speak about the importance of the Second Amendment, then continue by sharing encouraging words of freedom and constitutional rights. At the end of the meeting, they answer a few of the students’ questions.
“Ever since I was a young child, service in a political office seemed to me to be something reserved for only the ‘great’ people, but fortunately, I was mistaken,” said Jonathan from Oklahoma. “I realized that our government – ‘of, by, and for the people’ – not only allows but also necessitates that our nation’s leaders arise from the People. With this in mind, I chose to apply for the NRA Youth Education Summit. To my jubilation, I was selected!”
Jonathan is not unlike the other students who attend Y.E.S. – students who understand the importance of civics, government, current events, and respectful discourse. At the summit, Friends of NRA provides students with a productive and engaging way to learn about our nation’s history and how they can impact its future.
On their tour of the U.S. Capitol, students make a special stop at the House Gallery. The U.S. Capitol building is one of the most impressive sights of the week. As they sit in the House Chamber and watch representatives speak, students observe the political struggle that Congress goes through every day. “It is amazing to think that this is where everything which allows us to be here today originally happens,” remarked Gianna. Then, the students visit the Supreme Court and explore the National Archives, where they see the original Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights. Many world-changing decisions were made right here, and now Y.E.S. participants walk the same paths that great American and world leaders have for hundreds of years.
A formal debate held during the week provides an opportunity for students to engage in the political process by discussing relevant and timely topics. Students also participate in formal team debates at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center. Each student researches and prepares in coordination with assigned teammates prior to the start of Y.E.S. Working in debate groups to formulate and present arguments is a rewarding experience for the students. A less formal current events discussion is also held during the week – an exciting activity for students interested in pursuing a future in politics. Groups use their research and analysis to formulate answers to relevant policy issues. These discussions are moderated and observed by NRA staff from various departments including legal, executive, and grant management. Though groups and individuals disagree on some topics, all discussions proceed in a direct, yet respectful manner.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps immerses the students in the Marines’ history before honoring its members at the Iwo Jima Memorial. They also receive a special opportunity to see the 8th and I Parade. Students are amazed at the demonstration of meticulous precision as the marchers throw their rifles and complete their drills without a single command being spoken. On the last day of the summit, the students visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery to honor all of the servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price for Americans’ freedom and liberty.
Many Y.E.S. students aspire to join the armed forces in their near future. Those students especially learn that “military service isn’t all action and heroics, but that – when it comes down to duty on the battlefield, in the sky, or at sea – as a soldier, airman, or sailor, one must be prepared to make the same sacrifice as so many have before them,” said Peter from Florida.
By the end of the week, Y.E.S. students are sad to leave D.C.; they’ve enjoyed the summit and the amount of information that they’ve learned. They are left with pictures and memories as they move on to make their own mark on the history of this great nation.
All Y.E.S. students are patriots and protectors of the Constitution. This program empowers them to go out into the world with eachother’s support to preserve the rights and liberty granted to every American citizen. Students are engaged, empowered, challenged, and inspired. Our nation needs young leaders, and many are made during the NRA Youth Education Summit. The students of Y.E.S. will Lead the Legacy of freedom into the next generation.
A week-long competitive fellowship in Washington, D.C. enables high school sophomores and juniors to explore their passion for the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and our American government.