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NRA’s Upwards Trends

It was reported last month that NRA Annual Meeting was one of the fastest growing conventions or trade shows in the country, but I wanted to provide longer term trend information. Unfortunately, I found I had a gap in my reports since I started attending NRA’s Annual Meeting and had to wait on the numbers to present an accurate report. I just received those numbers and made a pretty little chart for you all to see how we’ve been trending.

NRAAnnualMeeting04-14

Keep in mind that that the bottom line in this chart is 40,000 people, and the lowest attendance documented here is still more than 54,000. While the number of attendees from Houston to Indianapolis dropped, the end of the 10-year span is still reflective of a 23% increase in members coming out. Even within the same city, both repeat cities have seen double digit increases in turnout. That’s pretty impressive.

Brian Anse Patrick on the NRA Annual Meeting

Brian Anse Patrick is the author of two books that I think are required reading for any Second Amendment activists, and that I think every new NRA employee should read as part of their orientation. Brian Anse Patrick was the speaker at the lunch portion of the law seminar, and I had the opportunity to speak with him at the reception. He seemed surprised when I mentioned I had read both of his books, and was a really nice guy. He’s working on a new book about the zombie phenomena.

Today, he released a post on his blog (which I didn’t know about before now) taking aim at Anna Marie Cox’s hit pieces in the Guardian just after the convention:

Noting another significant myth perpetuated by the column, NRA is not “the gun lobby.” Among many other functions, too many to list here but which include safety training and civil rights legal defense issues, NRA does indeed lobby on behalf of gun owners. But the gun manufacturers have their own exclusive trade associations and lobbies. NRA represents the interests of a people, not an industry.  These members pay the dues that support NRA’s manifold operations; no shadowy corporations front the money. As such, NRA members assemble in voluntary association; they converse among themselves and with others by means of various print, broadcast and computer-based media; and they peaceably petition government entities.  When the NRA does all this, organs such as The Guardian and The New York Times call it “lobbying,” but more accurately, it should be described as a principled application of the First Amendment. Such “lobbying” is merely the First Amendment put into practice.

I would encourage folks to head over and read the whole thing.

The Real Grassroots of Gun Culture

In light of yesterday’s post from Sebastian about concerns over messaging from NRA, and combined with the effort I’ve noted from Mother Jones to try and divide and conquer, the left-wing magazine is now trying to promote the notion that NRA doesn’t really have much in the way of grassroots and that everyone is just a paid shill of the evil gun lobby.

Their argument is that the NRA News commentators are paid, so therefore they aren’t really the grassroots of the gun culture. There’s just one big glaring problem with their story: the evidence doesn’t support it. Sure, the NRA News team and the commentators themselves have confirmed they are paid now, but Mother Jones ignores the fact that these people only got picked up because they were already actively part of the grassroots gun culture.

For example, they say this about Colion Noir:

Team member Noir recently confirmed in the Los Angeles Times that he was approached by the NRA and agreed to a deal, but also declined to discuss his compensation.

It makes it sound like NRA went out and to just find a black guy and offer him money to spit out pro-gun talking points. What Mother Jones leaves out is that Noir was brought on as staff in March 2013, but he already built a successful Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Instagram following long before that in 2011 (or 2012, in the case of Instagram). He was approached to come on as staff because he was particularly successful as part of the grassroots gun culture.

For another commentator, Billy Johnson, he came onto NRA’s radar because he decided to make a video about real gun violence statistics at the end of 2012. That single video has more than 1.2 million views. Think about that. A video about statistics posted during the holidays has pulled in more than 1.2 million views. Billy Johnson told followers that NRA News didn’t contact him until the summer of that year. In other words, they found him only because he was already successful as a grassroots commentator speaking to Second Amendment issues.

The other commentators have similar stories, but slightly different backgrounds in the grassroots gun culture. None of those pesky little facts about the history of involvement that each of these men and women had in the grassroots gun culture is ever mentioned, and I suspect that is on purpose. It wouldn’t help their cause to remind politicians that while these people are currently paid staff of NRA News, their backgrounds in the issue before they were paid represent hundreds of thousands of people all involved in promoting the Second Amendment and the shooting sports.

Of course, I would also say that NRA needs to remember this lesson as well. Sure, Ackerman McQueen may have put some of the better grassroots spokesmen on the payroll to roll out a few decent videos, but those spokesmen aren’t NRA’s power. NRA’s power lies in the millions who vote their gun rights, organize their shooting leagues, and bring the message of the Second Amendment to their family and friends. One reason I’m concerned that some in Fairfax may be forgetting this is because I only heard one speech that actually acknowledged this real power of our movement.

Even the Grassroots Seminar this year wasn’t promoted very much. It was left out of the event app, is nearly impossible to find on the Annual Meeting website and schedule, and was smaller as a result of the missed opportunities for promotion. An annual election volunteer coordinator event was cut this year, though Sebastian & I still reached out to Grassroots staff to have a chat on strategies and organizing in the movement. Granted, one factor in participation is likely a feeling of a little burnout because the movement has had to be “on” constantly for at least two years now, but NRA just needs to remember that a snazzy video channel and fancy posters don’t replace the rest of the field of grassroots activists.

Andrew Branca’s Presentation to Law Seminar

The audio isn’t all that great, but here’s defense attorney Andrew Branca’s presentation at the 2014 Firearms Law Seminar for anyone interested:

You can read about his appearance over at Legal Insurrection, as well as see his Hitler parody. Also note that he has a book out on self-defense.

Women & Camaraderie in the NRA

Here are two of my favorite press highlights from the NRA Annual Meeting.

One paper discovers that there are (gasp!) women on the floor of the convention just as into firearms and self-defense as men. This year’s event was definitely one of the most diverse events ever, and one way that was reflected was in gender. I also can’t tell you how many strollers I had to navigate around in Indy. It was a good thing the convention hall had such wide aisles.

In this story, NPR discovers that NRA members are both human and reasonably social creatures who have friends and family who often enjoy similar pastimes.

Stopping Active Shooters

Cam Edwards interviewed Dr. Eric Dietz, director of Purdue University’s Homeland Security Institute, who studied various responses to active shooters in schools. According to the research, the presence of a school resource officer improved response time by 80 percent over waiting for police, and they found that casualties could be cut by 2/3 if a school resource officer had access to a firearm during an active shooter situation.

Along these lines, NRA is actually putting up cash to help schools deal with safety concerns. Kyle Weaver, director of General Operations, announced that the School Shield program distributed over $200,000 in grants around the country this year. He said that these grant recipients and their projects would be featured on NRA News over the coming year.

The Requisite Pearl Clutching Over #NRAAM

Bitter and I arrived back late last night, and had to return the rental car early this morning. So things are running a bit behind. I have some more thoughts on NRA that have been developing since Annual Meeting, but it’ll take a bit to figure out exactly what I want to say. Indy was a good convention. But it seems that no NRA Annual Meeting can be complete without the requisite article by a pearl clutching reporter who is shocked, shocked, about what’s going on behind those doors. This year’s award has to go to Cliff Schecter, Bloomberg stooge, and all around vile human being.

I’m pretty certain the only one who is terrified of the NRA Annual Meeting is Cliff Schecter and his fellow travelers. It seems odd that NRA would credential media known to be hostile, but as anyone who’s read Brian Anse Patrick’s book on NRA media coverage can tell you, NRA feeds off this kind of hate. If anything, NRA is better off leaving friendly media to their own, and giving hostile media the “Right this way Mr. Schecter. We’ve prepared a tour of the floor for you that we sincerely hope will fulfill your every prejudice and stereotype about NRA members, and make the hate flow from your fingers with ease!,” treatment.

As I walked past a row of AR-15s mounted on the wall on my right, I noticed a J.Crewed-out family who might have come from Bethesda or Greenwich—two parents and their son, 12 or so—checking out the action on the wall. I looked around for more like them and started to notice that while in the minority, they were definitely there, wandering the halls looking at the merchandise. For a moment it was comforting, but it suddenly occurred to me that their nonchalance about taking their kids to an arms bazaar might be even more eerie than the shaved-headed, ZZ Top-bearded guys who smelled like month-old cheese and looked like they’d been locked in their bunkers the past week making love to their antique Lugers.

The condescension there is so thick you could plant a flagpole in it. First is the surprise that people who looked “J.Crewed-out” would be in some third world backwater like Indianapolis, which can’t even support a proper art gallery! And not only does it seem Indianapolis has cultured and upper-middle-class looking people, but they bring their kids to NRA Annual Meeting. Sacrebleu!

Of course, as much as Mr. Schecter might want to think we’re the short bus rejects, I’d just like to point out that one thing I did not do this weekend was wander around the show floor sniffing other men’s beards, and I’m pretty certain that was the case for probably all of the 75,200+ other attendees. Talk about weird.

NRA Annual Meeting Number for 2014

Total attendance? 75,267. That didn’t beat our phenomenal record last year in Houston, at the height of the anti-gun hysteria, of 86,228, but if you took Houston out, it would have beat the St. Louis figure of 73,740, which was the record up until Houston.  We did not get the details as we did last year, due to the fact that NRA no longer allows cell phones or other electronic devices in the Board Meeting. When Bitter came out to let me know, she missed the rest of the numbers.

The Internets go to Robb Allen, who noted:

Indy has the “Smell of Freedom”

Sebastian and I have been talking about how we rank Indianapolis on our list of host cities. Apparently, one man in the Smith & Wesson booth told a reporter that the city has the “smell of freedom.” Um, I’ll assume he’s not talking about the smell coming out of the grates near one corner of our hotel’s property because that’s sewage, not freedom.

Regardless of the one area that requires holding your breath for a bit as you walk by, Indy has been a pretty decent city for the convention. There are tons of hotels in walking distance, and the skywalk system meant that rain on Friday wasn’t an issue at all. However, the prices for food and beverage – mainly beverage – have been pretty outrageous. Every bar we’ve passed or been in around here has crappy beers for $5+ per glass. However, the food has been consistently excellent. We haven’t had one mediocre meal here.

I didn’t go between official events at the convention center and any other location beyond the JW Marriott, which is connected to the convention center, so I don’t know how the walk compared for those who did attend the multiple events. Generally, I really hate that set up, so it’s probably a good thing for my perception of the city that I didn’t attend those other events.

Other than Claddagh Irish Pub that put up a big sign telling gun owners who carry that they weren’t welcome, every other place had chalkboards and other signs posted welcoming NRA members. And based on how many people we saw sporting NRA & gun-related apparel, those welcoming joints were doing pretty well.

While I’ve had a pretty decent time in Indy, I would put it in the middle of the list of decent host cities. Considering that, according to Sandy Froman, NRA hasn’t held a convention here since 1976, it’s done very well in terms of getting people through the doors and onto the show floor. There’s a ton of parking around the area and many great places to stay.

Indy has been far better than cities like Charlotte, NC (too expensive), Pittsburgh, PA (terrible traffic management) and Louisville, KY (too spread out), but not quite as good as Phoenix, AZ (great layout) and Houston, TX (fantastic facilities). One big drawback to Indy that was also an issue in St. Louis is the presence of overly aggressive panhandlers. One person I know here posted on Facebook about the issue, and also included that he wasn’t so sure the person was that hard up when they pulled out a cell phone and started chatting up someone.

Overall, it was a good annual meeting. I hope that the numbers we hear later this morning show that others thought the same thing.

NRA Convention, Day 4

Sunday is usually the most relaxing day of the show because the crowds ease up from Saturday and there aren’t as many long events to squeeze in as Friday. But, let’s talk crowds at this year’s NRA Annual Meeting. Sebastian and I both observed that this year’s crowds were so much younger than previous years. We saw far more women, more tattoos, more unique piercings, and even more mohawks. This was not the old, white boring guy convention that the media would like to portray.

For us, Sunday meant spending well over an hour going up and down the collector aisles. Sebastian already covered highlights of this visit, but it is always the section we’re most excited to see these days.

FreeLobstersWalking out of the collector section, we did come across quite an interesting show special – free lobsters.

Sunday is also the day when many people who have been tied up in other events are finally able to make it to the floor. At one point, we stopped to talk to Sandy Froman, past NRA president. Even NRA presidents have the same issues we have as on the ground members – not enough time to shoot the guns we already own! After spending a little more time at the Smith & Wesson booth, Sebastian said hello to Molly Smith who he initially met years ago at Gun Blogger Rendezvous.

911RevolverFrameOff of the floor, we took some time to talk to Phil Schreier who is Senior Curator at the Firearms Museum which had a great set up in the NRA booth at Annual Meeting this year. It’s still amazing how the idea to put up a video about an old air rifle in their collection has resulted in 3.7 million views on YouTube.

We also finally caught up with David & Colleen Lawson, co-plaintiffs in McDonald v Chicago and now of Lawson Handgun Institute, and heard about the successful training programs they are now running in Chicago.

At some point, we crashed before dinner at St. Elmo’s Steak House which we had recommended to us many, many times. Since we also saw other NRA Annual Meeting attendees posting about their visit the place during the weekend, we figured we should check it out.

IndyWelcomeSpeaking of food, I forgot to mention another highlight from the previous day. We caught a quick bite to eat with our Grassroots Coordinator at NRA for our election volunteer efforts, and the grub at Pearl Street Pizzeria & Pub was definitely delicious. I had a small pizza with pear, gorgonzola, arugula, and balsamic vinegar that was delicious. We didn’t see any kind of postings, though they didn’t have any signs greeting NRA members, either. Granted, they are also located in an alley, so it’s not like there’s much room. Regardless, it was worth mentioning because we haven’t had anything bad here in Indy. The drinks are pretty pricey at most places ($5 even for beers that might as well be water, much more for anything better), but the food has been great.

Unfortunately, there was kind of a downer to the evening with local tv news revising estimates for attendance down to 50,000 people – a number that I don’t think has ever been an estimate for any year I’ve been attending (since 2004). I hope that was a mistake report, but things in our hotel aren’t looking good. Both bars advertised that they were supposed to be open until midnight this evening, but they both appear to have closed up early due to lack of business. It’s tough to use that as a judge though since there are sooooo many places to eat and drink within a short walking distance, which isn’t that common in many convention towns.

I suppose we’ll have an idea of the overall impact of this year’s Annual Meeting tomorrow at the board meeting. Keep an eye out on Twitter for our up to the minute reports of the numbers.

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