Just as quickly as it began, the 2019 National Rifle Association Annual Meetings (NRAAM) are over. In what turned out to be a whirlwind weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the meeting as a member of the press. What I witnessed was eye opening and encouraging. All of it wrapped up in a red, white, and blue package.
Expectations Aren’t Always Reality
This wasn’t my first NRA Annual Meeting. As an NRA member, I have had the opportunity to attend more than one over the years, so I had some idea of what to expect from the weekend. However, this year was different. This was my first year covering the event as a member of the press and not just as “member 7”.
Through that lens, I noticed some things I never had before. In my younger years, I had always (ignorantly) considered the event as a glorified gun show, but the older I get, the more I realize that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The NRAAM (and the NRA itself) is so much more. Here’s what I took away from a very enjoyable and emotional weekend in Indianapolis.
NRA-ILA Leadership Forum – Trump Makes History
My Friday morning started walking through security lines and bag checks preparing to enter Lucas Oil Stadium. I was on my way see President Trump, Vice President Pence, the NRA leadership, and multiple other political leaders speak to the benefit and necessity of an organization protecting the Second Amendment and American freedoms. Anyone who has attended an event with President Trump and Vice President Pence knew the types of speeches they would hear – smooth, well-crafted words by our Vice President (does anyone deliver a speech better?) and fiery yet effective vigor from our President. This set of speeches, however, brought more to the table than just stump speeches.
Both Pence and Trump gave passionate defenses of the NRA and used the time to prove their dedication to defending the freedoms of every American. Donald Trump has positioned himself as the most pro-NRA President ever, speaking at the Annual Meeting more than any President before him. I have listened to his speeches there each year, but this year seemed different. President Trump brought a wide array of guest speakers with him. Each one had a great (and heart-wrenching) story of how the freedom’s of the Second Amendment had given them the opportunity to stand up and act – capped by the speech of Stephen Willeford, the hero of the First Baptist Church shooting in southern Texas. The room filled with emotion as he described his heroism in defending his neighbors in their time of greatest need against a truly evil foe.
What President Trump did near the end of his speech turned out to be the most note-worthy, however. President Trump signed an executive order requesting the Senate return the UN Arms Trade Treaty to his office for removal. Effectively pulling the United States out of the treaty for good. The US Senate has yet to ratify the treaty, but it was signed onto by the US in 2014 by Obama. The treaty, per proponents, aimed at regulating conventional weapon transfers globally, but most defenders of the Second Amendment, including the NRA, feared that it may be used to stifle US legal gun owners by giving regulatory powers to an un-elected, foreign entity. As President Trump would say so succinctly, “Not good.”
The move by President Trump was expected for some time, but hadn’t happened yet. In typical Trump fashion, he used the environment and knowledge of the issue in the stadium to transform the signing into an absolute showstopper. This was just another example of the President keeping promises he made during the 2016 election cycle. The attendees of the Leadership Forum (including myself) went nuts over the decision to nix the treaty. President Trump only escalated the fervor by tossing the pen used for the signing into the crowd. The place went wild. Finally a President who takes the stand he promised to take – refreshing.
Exhibition Hall Goings-on: What Really Drives the NRA
After leaving the Leadership Forum, I made my way over to the main thoroughfare of the NRAAM – the exhibition hall. I have attended rallies, frequented amusement parks, and enjoyed major sporting events, but nothing, I repeat, nothing has the energy of the NRA exhibition hall. The spread alone is massive – making up almost nine acres of exhibits, demonstrations, as well as “meet and greets”. You can find anything in the gun/sporting world there. Every part and component accounted for, from the newest wave of gun design to the most classic weapon imaginable. You can’t truly grasp the enormity of the event without seeing it in person – even if you don’t consider yourself a “gun person.”
As I said before, attending the event as a member of the press helped me look deeper than just the surface of a “gun show.” When I peeled back the external overload of product branding, celebrity sightings, and enormous crowds, I saw a different picture. I realized that those things aren’t the NRAAM at all. The glitz and glamor are definitely a piece, but what really drives the weekend is the focus on education, safety, and conservation.
Around every corner, at almost every booth I experienced people sharing stories, giving tips, and helping educate each other. The major gun brands weren’t just pushing product, they were looking to promote the Second Amendment. Additionally, they took time to teach the youth in attendance the importance of safety and responsibility. You never hear that side of the story out of most today’s media. They only portray the story of “evil guns” being given out to kids like candy. It just doesn’t represent the reality – a mindset of education, safety, and defending the freedoms all Americans hold dear.
The Heart of the People – Defense of the Second Amendment is in Good Hands
The Annual Meetings are the culmination of the old guard and the new voices in the defense of the Second Amendment. Though they all have different styles and backgrounds, they have one voice – protecting our rights and freedoms. As I ventured throughout the exhibition areas, I took time to watch and listen to those giving talks and presentations.
I was especially impressed by Cam Edwards of NRATV and Dana Loesch, a conservative firebrand and NRA national spokesperson. They both spent time broadcasting from the NRATV satellite set in the main exhibition hall and I was really impressed over the hour or so I listened to them. Though I had heard both of them before on the radio and the internet, watching them speak and interact with others in person allowed me to see how much they truly care about the rights of every American. It was evident that this fight is more than just their job, it’s their passion. They want their children and grandchildren to grow up with those same rights that they have enjoyed, and they know that if they don’t fight, those will look to trample those freedoms.
Those two are just a microcosm of what I saw throughout the NRA Annual Meetings. The heart of the event is to defend and preserve our US rights. Many in the media and those on the left would lead people to believe that the NRA has “blood on their hands” and is nothing more than a modern-day death cult. I have heard them say those very things. My experience this weekend (and my history as an NRA member myself) tell me otherwise. The NRA is, and has always been, an advocate for responsible gun ownership.
Don’t take everything you hear in the news media at face value. If you ever have the chance, go to the NRA Annual Meetings. You’ll find that it’s nothing like what you’ve been told. You may just realize that the NRA represents you too, even if you’re not a member. You have a year to make plans. I hear Nashville is beautiful in April.
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