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The NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund has announced the winners of its annual Youth Essay Contest celebrating the Second Amendment as an integral part of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Nearly 450 students submitted essays to the 2013 Youth Essay Contest, whose featured prompt was "The Second Amendment to the Constitution: Why it is Important to our Nation." Entries were separated into two categories: Senior (grades 10-12) and Junior (grades 9 and below), and were judged on originality, scholarship and presentation.

"Once again, the Fund received a large number of entries, making the selection of winners a difficult task," said Skipp Galythly, contest judge and NRA Assistant General Counsel. "But I always enjoy reading the essays and seeing how members of this generation look into the issue of the Second Amendment and form their own opinions."

Seventeen-year-old Samantha Keng of Smyrna, Ga., took top honors in the Senior category for her essay "The Second Amendment: Why it is important to our nation." In the Junior category, 14-year-old Anna Haverly of Mancos, Colo., won first place with her essay "The Second Amendment: A Right or a Wrong."

All students enrolled in an elementary, junior high, or high school-including homeschoolers-during the 2013-2014 academic year, who had not previously placed in the contest in their respective category, were eligible to enter. Winners were awarded cash prizes of $1,000 for first place, $600 for second, $200 for third, and $100 for receiving honorable mention.

"It is never easy to narrow down the large number of well-written essays to just four winners in each category," said Galythly. "Doing so for the Junior category this year proved especially tough and the Fund approved an additional Honorable Mention award, making this task just a bit easier."

What makes an essay a winner? Read on for excerpts from the top-ranked pieces to see what a little research, and a lot of talent, can do.

First Place, Junior Category: Anna Kate Haverly, Age 14
"To many, guns bring up the topic of self-defense. If guns mount guard over a household, most criminals will not relish a break-in. In 2010, a 15-year-old boy protected himself and little sister from two men who had forced their way into his house using his father's AR-15. Again, in a more recent case, an elderly man staved off a young housebreaker with a handgun. 108,000 to 2.4 million times a year, says Wayne LaPierre, guns deter robbery and mugging, as in the suburb of Kennesaw in Atlanta, Ga. This suburb passed a law in 1982 requiring the head of every household to have at least one gun. The robbery rate immediately dropped by 89 percent. Coincidence? Not really."

Second Place, Junior Category: Reagan Bush, Age 11
"During the ratification of the United States Constitution, my fellow Pennsylvanian Tench Coxe had much to say about the Second Amendment, all of which was positive. Tench Coxe write in the Federal Gazette in Philadelphia, ‘As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow-citizens, the people are confirmed by the next article in their right to keep and bear arms.' What Coxe was pointing out was a sentiment that was common among our founders, a fear that any future government would grow tyrannical."

Third Place, Junior Category: Antonio Ferris, Age 14
"Another important point is that armed citizens discourage a foreign nation from successful invasion of the country. Not only would an aggressive nation have to defeat the military, but they would also have to deal with millions of armed citizens. The framers of the Constitution knew all too well the effectiveness of armed citizens rising up against organized armies-as they had just won their independence in just such a manner. Indeed, without access to firearms the war for independence would likely have been lost."

First Place, Senior Category: Samantha Keng, Age 17
"Self defense is a basic human right, a natural right, and the Second Amendment was created for an express purpose: To ensure that the American citizenry would have the means to protect themselves from a tyranny of any kind. The Second Amendment keeps a government honest, transparent, and answerable to the citizenry; an unarmed citizenry means one vulnerable to the whims of a government that may not act in their best interest. During the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, for example, unarmed student rioters were met with military assault rifles and tanks sent to suppress the demonstrations by any means necessary. The people were left with no means of defense and no way to fight back. An event like this will never happen in America because of the Second Amendment."

Second Place, Senior Category: Nicole Servais, Age 17
"It is a common misconception that our Founding Fathers ‘granted' the American populace the right to own a gun. Rather, the Second Amendment is an inalienable right. Inalienable means that it is something the government can neither grant nor take away; it is inherently embedded within every citizen and completes the full scope of human rights. Our Founding Fathers did not ‘grant us a privilege.' They listed the right to bear arms as a necessary and proper right instilled automatically within every citizen, and this is the right to protection. Just as the Constitution contains numerous checks and balances to keep the government operating within its power, the Second Amendment provides the final and most necessary check and balance: the people themselves."

Third Place, Senior Category: Annette Droddy, Age 15
"It seems apparent that George Mason was right in saying "...to disarm the people is the best and most effective way to enslave them...." It is only when citizens are armed that they may fully enjoy their liberties. When the rights of a people to protect themselves are removed, not only do the other most basic civil rights of man begin to disappear, but also the lives of those who do not submit to a morally unjust government."

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