August 31, 2022
By Brad Fitzpatrick
By the end of the Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt was an American hero with his sights set on the highest seat in government. Despite Roosevelt’s acclaim as a leader during the conflict, there was one area where he saw room for improvement: marksmanship. America hadn’t been embroiled in a significant armed conflict since the Civil War, and the Industrial Revolution and urbanization meant that far fewer soldiers had grown up shooting to supply their families with meat. In 1903, partly at Roosevelt’s behest, congress created the office of Director of Civilian Marksmanship as part of the War Department Appropriations Act. The National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice, which would later become the Civilian Marksmanship Program, was established.
Roosevelt had seen firsthand how Spanish soldiers firing 7mm Mauser bolt-action rifles were better equipped for battle than American forces who were, at the time, carrying .45-70 rifles, and he decided that America needed a long-range military rifle and soldiers capable of shooting that gun to great distances. The 1903 Springfield was the solution, a rifle that was far more accurate than the Trapdoor Springfield .45-70. If modern warfare was to be fought on more expansive battlefields, American armed forces would require a weapon that was up to the task.
The 1903 Springfield’s improved capabilities also presented something of a problem: finding a place to shoot. Until 1903, the Ohio National Guard trained their soldiers to shoot near the city of Newark, but the new Springfield rifle was capable of hitting targets at far greater distances than were offered at that range. This led to the purchase of land the south shore of Lake Erie near the city of Port Clinton. The shooting facility was named in honor of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, and in 1906 Camp Perry was founded.
Part of the mission of the CMP was to offer firearms training and education to the public as well as providing ranges upon which to shoot. There were several benefits to establishing such a program. First, the CMP provided civilians with training using military firearms, but it also helped educate the public on how to safely handle guns. Not surprisingly, accidental gun deaths have declined steadily since the 1920s when records began being kept, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
In 1996 the Clinton administration considered ending the Civilian Marksmanship Program. Instead, congress established the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice Firearms Safety, the body that currently governs the CMP. In addition, the CMP became a 501(c)(3). In addition, a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Army and Civilian Marksmanship Program increased the number of M1 Garand rifles that an individual could purchase through the CMP from one rifle per lifetime to eight rifles per year—including serialized receivers. In ’96 the CMP adopted a list of key functions of the organization that include instructing citizens of the United States in marksmanship, promoting practice and safety in the use of firearms, and conducting competitions.
One of the functions of the CMP was to sell out-of-service military firearms to American civilians. Not only does the CMP sell military issued M1903 and M1903A3 rifles but also M1 Garands, M1 Carbines, M1917 Enfields as well as M1911/A1 pistols. From the early 20th century these firearms were used by the United States military, and so having a civilian population who was familiar with these guns, their function and how to shoot them became an issue of national security. Sales of these service firearms continues today.
“Believe it or not, there are still stockpiles of these old rifles,” says Steve Cooper, the education, training, and marketing manager for the CMP. Today, many shooters associate the CMP with two things: the sale of used military firearms and shooting competitions at Camp Perry. But the CMP is much more than this. Yes, the organization does sell military firearms, but it also sells sporter and precision air rifles and air pistols. In addition, the CMP offers many range accessories such as range and wind flags and sight sets for rifles.
CMP Youth Programs
The CMP is particularly focused on providing opportunities for youth shooters and offers special deals such as the Club Delayed Payment program. This makes it easier for kids to find a place to shoot and a firearm to use—all while receiving instruction on firearms safety and operation. Of course, the CMP also oversees the National Trophy Rifle Championship and National Trophy Pistol Championship, which are held at Camp Perry each year. These prestigious events draw some of the best shooters from around the world, and the CMP offers specialized classes such as M1 Rifle, M1 Carbine and Vintage competitions.
These events are not just held at Camp Perry, though. All CMP firearms are run through the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama, and the CMP has constructed a new rifle, pistol and air rifle/pistol range in nearby Talladega. The CMP range in Talladega has hosted the last two Olympic trials. There’s a good chance that there’s a CMP competition near your home, and there are also several CMP camps and clinics for youth and adults that are held around the country each year.
To compete in a match, clinic or camp, every shooter needs a competition tracking number, or CT#. This number tracks your Excellence in Competition (EIC) points which are earned when you finish in the top 10 percent of competitors at an event and meet or exceed the minimum credit score. EIC points allow shooters to earn Distinguished Marksmanship badges. The Civilian Marksmanship Program is as valuable now as it was in 1903, not just as a means to train soldiers or sell used service weapons but as a recreational sport that promotes responsible firearms use and teaches responsibility and maturity—traits that are as valuable today as they were a century ago.
The CMP program also offers young people with instruction on how to safely handle and shoot firearms. For over a century the CMP has been a benefit to the American people, and supporting this non-profit organization helps provide opportunities for all shooters. Visit the Civilian Marksmanship Program website to learn more.