Friends of Freedom is a nationwide, multi-media, mission-based campaign highlighting the dynamic faces behind our mission - those who push forward with tireless energy to protect our Second Amendment freedoms and those who are impacted by that fearless drive to foster the future of the shooting sports on local, state, and national levels.
It takes more than 15,000 volunteers across the country to effectively run 1,100 Friends of NRA events annually. They are the backbone of this grassroots effort and the reason this program is celebrating 25 years in 2017. Friends of NRA volunteers are fundraising champions fueled by the passion to raise money for the future of the shooting sports on local, state and national levels. They are armed with dedication, drive and determination to protect the Second Amendment.
You can now add Eric Landrum to that list of champions. While shopping at a local gun shop in rural Kentucky, a Friends of NRA event flyer caught his eye, and he thought it looked like a good time.
“I went with the shop owner to my very first banquet seven years ago, and I’ve been going ever since,” recalls Eric Landrum. “Growing up in a rural county with a strong hunting and gun enthusiast presence where everybody knows everybody, I was shocked at the lack of people from my hometown at this event and started thinking about how I could get more of them involved.” "I was shocked at the lack of people from my hometown."
Williamstown is the sleepy county seat of Grant County, Kentucky. Not much happened here until “Answers with Genesis” popped up with a life size replica of Noah’s Ark and put Grant County on the map. With that same thought of bringing water to the horses, Eric went to work. When he encountered Kentucky NRA Field Representative John LaRowe at a local gun shop, Eric told him he would like to launch and chair a Friends of NRA committee in his hometown.
“Eric has been a long-time supporter of the Northern Kentucky banquet and was at the NRA Foundation events at the NRA Annual Meeting in Louisville, so when I saw him at Shooter’s Supply in Independence one day I went to thank him,” says LaRowe. “Little did I know that he was ready to step up and bring Friends of NRA to his community. We met a couple of weeks later for lunch, and I’ve been amazed ever since about his dedication and passion for sharing shooting sports and outdoor traditions with others, particularly youngsters who might not otherwise have opportunities to learn and practice safely.”
“After we got the official green light and signed our charter papers, we immediately started looking for a venue, which was harder than I thought,” describes Landrum. “Being in a small community our options were limited and being on a budget made it even harder, so we reached out to the local high school who helped work out a time to use their gym. Within 24 hours of signing our charter, we had the venue, FFL and caterer.”
Then came the difficult task of rounding up those horses.
“Time was definitely the biggest challenge because I was trying to promote the event for two days without flyers and 14 days with no tickets to sell because our local printer was backed up,” says Landrum. “We found out real quick that if you don’t have something immediately to put in a potential guest’s hand, they forget about you.”
"Doctors told his mother he was not expected to live."Now for the monkey wrench – Senator Rand Paul was holding a rally 15 miles away on the same night as the event with an expected crowd of several hundred people. Time was quickly ticking away and tickets sales were slow, so Eric teamed up with his best friend and now committee treasurer, Jarrod. They rolled up their sleeves and moved into a strategic position.
“Our typical day went from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. going to businesses in seven surrounding counties. A lot of the time Jarrod would walk into the business without me in order to save time,” explains Landrum. “I would stay in the vehicle and make calls or return calls. This allowed us to double the face to face contact as well as double the amount of flyers to hang up. This was our schedule seven days a week for six weeks.”
That sweat equity paid off. The Williamstown Friends of NRA event was a huge success with 150 guests raising more than $25,000—earning it the High Caliber Club Level distinction among committees across the country. And 2017 is already in motion with a date, venue and caterer. All this in less than six weeks and from a life-supporting wheelchair.
In 1994, on the daily drive to work and their daycare, Eric, his mother and his brother were involved in a tragic car accident. The accident left five-year-old Eric paralyzed from the neck down from a spinal cord injury. He was ventilator dependent. Doctors told his mother he was not expected to live, and if he did, he would be a "vegetable"—unable to speak or communicate.
“I always considered my situation and myself normal because that is all I knew. I went to a regular school with regular kids. My brother and I still fought like brothers do, and I still got in trouble and punished like any other kid would,” says Landrum. “I always participated in extracurricular activities. My disability did not mean I had an excuse not to participate, just that my participation was modified.”
And so was his shooting. After a few internet searches, he found a piece of adaptive equipment for his rifle. A personal invitation from Ted Nugent for a pig hunt on his farm resulted in Eric’s first wild pig harvest and an exhilarating time with fellow hunters. “It is truly amazing how much his community supports him and his cause.” “I will be turning 28 in 2017 so I pre-date the organization by only three years, which means my generation was one of the first to benefit from this program,” says Landrum. “I wonder if the shooting sports would be what it is today without Friends of NRA.”
“It is truly amazing how much his community supports him and his cause,” LaRowe proudly remarks. “Through his contacts, we are working on grants for a number of organizations: 4-H, JROTC, a new Scholastic Trap club, a new Scholastic Rifle club and their ever-growing Scholastic Archery club. I’ve yet to find anything he isn’t willing to try. He simply refuses to include ‘can’t’ in his vocabulary. He’s amazed me almost every day with his accomplishments.”
“None of this could ever have been accomplished without my strong will to never quit combined with a very strong support structure consisting of family, friends, nurses, and the list goes on,” says Landrum. “But most importantly the daily miracles that are too many to count. All I can say is God must want me here for a reason, because without Him, I would be nowhere near where I am today. Who knows? Maybe I would be that ‘vegetable’ like the doctors said. As long as I am here, I hope to live every moment to the fullest.”