Because my entire family in the area came out on Sunday of the NRA annual meeting, I managed to check out a few things I normally wouldn’t check out and see things through a fresh perspective. Like any event of this size, there was good and bad with it. Even with the bad, I think there’s great potential, but it’s just a matter of finding the right people who can pull it off.
NRA specifically hosts an NRA Youth Day on the last day of the convention. I’ll be honest, with as many kids as I saw on Saturday, I think they should consider doing at least something kid-focused on both weekend days in the future. The number of families keep growing at every convention, and they have such a great opportunity to offer something special that stands out for the kids.
Even if they never grow up to be gun owners, my niece and nephew will grow up remembering that they attended an NRA meeting and that everything seemed nice, normal, and fun. Even if they don’t grow up to be activists, there’s a good chance they won’t ever be voters for the other side of the issue since they realize that good, normal folks own firearms without incident because of their trip to the annual meeting.
When we arrived about half an hour after the Youth Day area opened, the room was still a little sparse. A few activities weren’t really going, the prize table was just a big empty spot, and there weren’t a ton of kids. However, this did make it easier to talk to some of adults doing demo stuff. For example, I talked to Bob who was dressed up as a frontiersman and manning a display of various antique arms. While my 6-year-old niece may not have been thrilled, I was certainly enthralled when he mentioned a colonial-era gunsmith family I’d never heard of before – a name that just happened to be a line in Sebastian’s family tree and, according to this guy, from a few counties over… More research is now needed. (Related bleg: Who knows about the Honaker family of gunsmiths, reportedly connected to Pennsylvania at some point?)
One of the best features, in my opinion, was the exhibit floor scavenger hunt. They printed a sheet of sponsors and told the kids to go get signatures from each of the sponsors with booths. When all were marked, the sheets would be returned to the Youth Day area and exchanged for raffle tickets. I loved the idea since it gives parents an excuse to see the floor while their kids get something fun in return.
Some of the people signing the programs were really sweet to my niece, and she got a kick out of the trucker hat Winchester gave out to the kids. I would actually love to see this expanded a bit. Inviting groups with consistently interesting booths to participate might be a fun idea. For example, even though they aren’t sponsors, why not reach out to a collector group with a cool display to see if they would be willing to offer some kind of little hand out to kids? It gets families across more of the exhibit hall and checking out more sections to cover every interest. As it was, the area covered by the sponsors on the list spread across less than half of the hall.
Unfortunately, there was a big downside for the kids who were the most eager to finish early and get their raffle tickets. Even my little niece noticed that during the raffle draw, not a single number was drawn from anywhere close to her number or her big brother’s number. All winners came from one batch of kids who returned their tickets later in the day. A worker said what we suspected based on the lack of numbers drawn from the first batch – they lost the tickets for the early kids and didn’t tell anyone until after they gave out all the big prizes to the kids who came in later. Once they ran out of drawing tickets and saw just how many kids were still around who didn’t even have a chance to win, they told them to come up for new tickets so they could draw from the leftover handouts.
I only report this snafu because it was bad enough that the little kids even noticed the problem and NRA has a built-in solution with field reps from all over the country who successfully manage both volunteers and raffles practically every night at Friends of NRA events. It really didn’t need to happen, and I really hope that they try to make it right by bringing in someone who knows how to work crowds and do raffles next time. Heck, call in a complete Friends of NRA committee from near the convention site to run it, and it will go much more smoothly than whoever handled it this year. It has great potential, but the execution was a real downer for my family.
I think the only other thing I can suggest to expand this program would be to consider incorporating more of what NRA does well – programs like Eddie Eagle. It would have been wonderful to have Eddie there for a few hours out of the day helping out kids. Even having the Eddie Eagle video playing in a corner would have probably been more successful than the attempts at trying to push karaoke I witnessed.
When it comes to the family-friendly experience, overall, I have to give it a thumbs up for getting the framework right. I’d just like to see a little bit more innovation in this direction and a lot more hours of operation.