In December 2014, I had this short email exchange with contributor Tom “Hoser” Freeman, whose day job is a loadmaster on an Air Force C-130 Hercules:
Hoser: Going to be overseas a bit around Christmas. If it goes, I will miss SHOT.
Me: When will you know for sure?
Hoser: It all depends on the Man.
Me: Which man?
Hoser has mastered the art of saying more by saying less. His Eastern European vacation was delayed until February, when his crew was deployed in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a show of force meant to discourage Russian adventurism.
Hoser’s “hurk” stopped for fuel in Ireland, where an odd thing happened. “A gentleman met the plane in an old, tattered NRA hat, which kinda stuck out,” he said. “I said, ‘I gotta get you a new hat.’ He raised an eyebrow, so I handed him one of my NRA American Warrior cards.
“We had a short talk; He believed in the cause, having seen what had happened in his neck of the woods. His NRA membership had lapsed, though he still received his magazine. I told him I’d see what I could do about it.”
As Hoser and his crew were prepping to leave the next morning, the man handed him an envelope containing $200.
“I said, ‘You don’t need to do that; I got your membership.’ He said, ‘Then just donate it to the NRA.’”
Armed with a name and two C-notes, we called Derek Robinson, NRA’s head of membership. With a few clicks, Robinson found him, but of course couldn’t tell us much more, as NRA membership info is private. However, he did make him a five-year member and sent him some NRA gear.Who was this mysterious Irishman, stepping out of the fog at a secretive air base in an NRA hat and handing $200 to a strange American?
Exactly who was this mysterious Irishman, stepping out of the fog at a secretive air base in an NRA hat and handing $200 to a strange American? Our curiosity was piqued, so we stopped shooting at our light fixtures with SIRTs and emailed him.
After a short exchange, we called Declan, who heads a small flight service company. During the course of business, he has met, and befriended, many U.S. generals, servicemen, senators and other VIPs. He allows no media on base, and his guests appreciate being able to come and go in private. However, not all of them appreciate his enthusiasm for firearm freedoms, so his full name, company and location shall remain …
“Oh, that’s very classified,” joked Declan when we asked him how he met Hoser. “No, it’s not. No. But we have a very small company, and I only deal with U.S. government aircraft.” He was politely reminding us that he had a business to protect.
“I was wearing my NRA hat, which I had been given about eight years previously in the States,” he said. “It had been black with NRA writing in orange on the side, but the sunlight bleached it to kind of a browny-grey. Hoser was surprised; in Ireland when people see NRA, they think it’s the National Road Association.”
(Wait … an Irishman will wear a National Road Association hat? Never mind.)
“There was a little U.S. flag on the side, and that proved it was a genuine article,” Declan added. “I said, ‘Do you really write for NRA?’ Not that I didn’t believe him, but … It was only later when we checked an NRA magazine, we said, ‘Oh, God, he writes this article and that article.’ In the line of work we do, we try not to ask people what they do outside of the job.”
So, Declan, how does an Irishman come to join the NRA?
“I was over visiting some people in Washington about six or seven years ago to do a ton of expo shows, but we arranged it so that we could also include a gun show,” he said. “We were given a free hat going in and a few stickers, and then we subscribed to the magazines, which I still get. My colleague has never received one, but his writing is so bad, God knows, it probably ends up in Timbuktu.”
Declan knew of NRA through hunting magazines, and from living in Los Angeles for five years. “So then Charlton Heston, when he was at the head, God love him, before he died, he was a great advocate. Did they actually finish the NRA museum out there in D.C.?”
Declan has some interesting observations on what it’s like to be an Irish gun owner.
“They’re pretty tight on gun control in Ireland,” he said. “You’re not allowed to have any gun for self-defense. You’re only allowed if you belong to a hunting club, or like a pistol shooting club. They’re trying to whittle down guns to only allow .22 Olympic-type handguns at the ranges.
“Every gun you have is individually licensed to you; you pay 80 euro per gun every three years. You also have to have insurance to cover your chosen activities, in the event that you accidentally shoot a bullock or a cow or something.”
While that sounds restrictive, that’s not all of the hoops Irish gun owners must jump through.
“You have to be able to prove you have a good reason for having a gun,” he said. “So, even with a shotgun, you have to prove that you have access to land to hunt on. You need either written permission from the landowner, or you can belong to a local club.”
Declan fished his club membership receipt out for us: “The club membership is 43 euro a year; the insurance is 50 euro, and there’s a two euro donation to something else. That’s 95 euro, which is substantial enough, you know.
“You also have to have a monitored alarm system on your house.”
Further, there are additional “safe storage” requirements that must be met in order to own a firearm.“Charlton Heston, when he was at the head, God love him, before he died, he was a great advocate. Did they actually finish the NRA museum out there in D.C.?”
“Your gun, for your own safety, should be locked away in parts and pieces,” he said. “I’ve the slide taken off, and the barrel excepted from the actual rest. We have them all in one large safe, in a room that you have to go through another room to get to. So, if someone tried to break in, you’re better off grabbing an ax or a bar, something that’s beside your bed, rather than a gun.
“Some of the local police here would like to see that there were no guns in any civilian possession. So, I’m expecting the next time mine is up for renewal, which is in the next few months, that I’ll be refused. And I’ll try and fight my battle, but it’s going to be a losing cause here.”
So, Declan, why support the National Rifle Association?
“Well, nobody here gets it,” he said. “I lived in the States and I agree with what the NRA stands for. Even though I’ve been back here for the last 20 years. I meet enough Americans, and they have the same opinion as myself: If you’re doing nothing illegal, you should be allowed to have whatever guns you want.”
Declan makes no attempt to hide his affection for the Americans he attends to, and is grateful for their friendship.
“I'm exceptionally proud, I’m really, really proud of who we look after and a lot of people have looked after me pretty well,” he said.
NRA is grateful, too. Welcome back, Declan.