I am an NRA Annual Meetings rookie; this was the first year I attended. Held in a different city each year, it is one of the largest firearm events in the country open to the public. I have made a point to go to SHOT Show every year, but for some reason I kept putting off the NRA show.
Until recently I did not know it was set up as a convention hall similar to SHOT, the primary difference between the two is that the NRA Annual Meetings are open to all NRA members, rather than to industry professionals only. I assumed the NRA Meetings was just as it sounded, meetings for those involved in NRA politics. Everyone I know in the industry emphasized I needed to attend. “It is hard to explain but it is just different,” they said. At the last minute I booked a ticket and reserved my hotel room to find out for myself what the Annual Meetings were all about.
The Meetings are held in a different city every year. I had the un-pleasure of flying to Indianapolis. It is not the city I am referring to, I could have flown to Europe for the same amount of time it took me to get there from Seattle. Apparently not many people from Seattle go to Indianapolis because there were no direct flights. Almost 10 hours later, after transfers and delays, I made it. Was the convention worth the effort it took to get there? Yes.
As someone new to the Meetings I was more than pleasantly surprised with what a great event it was. Perhaps it helped that I did not over-schedule myself with writing jobs like I have done at SHOT Show. I made this trip about “me time.” I wanted to spend time with my current sponsors and friends in the industry. I was able to network on the trade show floor at a leisurely pace. I am sure that pace won’t last long for future shows, and I know that the people exhibiting were still on the stressful business end of this.
I also spent time getting to know the NRA Women. There was a heavy emphasis on New Energy and NRA Moms. There were several opportunities to socialize with influential women involved in the NRA movement. These women were board members, business owners, competitors and celebrity faces. But this show is not just about the people in the industry. It is about everyone, kids and adults, from everywhere getting a chance to hobnob directly with the great companies and personalities in the firearm and outdoor sporting world.
Every NRA member was invited to attend the Annual Meeting and all the events tied in with it. Of course we had anti-gun protestors out on the streets at times. It would be boring otherwise right? To be perfectly honest I enjoyed that I was able to make this event about taking time for myself. I had an equal balance of business and pleasure.
Here are the top reasons I enjoyed the NRA Annual Meetings so much:
- You do not have to make an appointment to talk with vendors.
SHOT Show is for the industry only; everyone is fighting for attention. If you have not made appointments at least a month prior you will not be able to talk to anyone unless you trip or bump in to them as you are walking through the hall. Although, I have learned that trick does work. That is my strategy; don’t steal it. At the NRA Annual Meetings the vendors are just chatting with the general public mostly. That means more time for me.
- Being open to the public makes for great people watching.
The NRA reported the number of attendees at the 2014 Annual Meetings to be 75,267 people. That’s a lot of people, and you can’t get that many people together without attracting a few characters and getting to witness some interesting interactions. Sometimes, when you have a moment, the best entertainment is found in watching people browse the booths and talk amongst one another.
- You can discuss business leisurely over a beer instead of the trade show booth “office” closet.
Many of the exhibits at SHOT have these tiny box sized rooms with a desk and chairs for meetings. Talk about claustrophobic. At this event, when I went in to a booth to talk with someone they would offer to walk the floor, get coffee or lunch as we spoke. This happened several times. I did not even have to trip them as I walked past.
- You can watch Peter Palma of Top Shot Season One dance. Or not.
My favorite evening of the weekend was after the Stand and Fight concert. Word was out that people were meeting at a nearby pub after the concert. No business cards came out, it was just a great time catching up with friends in the industry and meeting new ones. No names need to be mentioned to protect the guilty, I mean innocent. Except for Peter Palma. If you watched Top Shot at all, Peter was the contestant who had a great wardrobe of stars and stripes pants and ties. I saw Peter walking the NRA convention hall in a pink unicorn tee shirt by day. For evening the unicorns turned in to a roaring gargoyle monster tee. The gargoyle must have inspired the dancing. I want Peter at all of my parties.
- Actual adoring fans instead of industry people that know better.
When in the industry we all know what everyone else does for a living. Business owners, bloggers, writers and competitors are all great people and we all work very hard at what we do. So although we support each other and are proud of each other’s accomplishments, it is still difficult to stand out in the crowd. To people outside of the trade we become “special” again. It is flattering when strangers introduce themselves as followers of your blog or Facebook Page. Note to self: NRA Annual Meetings is good for the ego.
- You get to witness Sarah Palin talk about baptizing terrorists.
Whether or not you like Mrs. Palin, you have to admit she has gumption. Saturday night was a big concert event held at the Colt’s stadium. Being a Seattle Seahawk fan I had to bite the bullet so to speak and go in to the stadium. (Editor’s Note: Go Giants!) Guest speakers included Rev. Graham, Oliver North, Sarah Palin and more. Then we had two great shows by Sarah Evans and Alabama. The media had a field day when Graham put the Second Amendment and God together in one sentence, and even more fun with Sarah Palin’s advice on waterboarding suspected terrorists. There is never a dull moment in the gun world.
- Women are on top.
Now get your head out of the gutter. Women were on all of the billboards above our heads. Like SHOT Show, women were celebrated as the New Energy needed for the NRA and gun movement to move forward.
As a rebuttal to a Moms Demand Action campaign, the NRA was handing out buttons stating “I’m an NRA Mom” and they were everywhere! There were plenty of women celebrities to be seen on the show floor as well, including Julie Golob, Gabby Franco, Natalie Foster and many more. I ran in to great competitors such as Dianna Liedorff, The Olympic Biathlete Barnes twins, the Miculek mother-daughter duo, Brooke Sevigny. Of course, there were plenty of business women too, such as Karen Butler of Shoot Like A Girl, Stephanie Pastusek of XS Sights, Athena Means of GunGoddess.com, and NRA volunteer of the year Jacqueline Marie.
- You never know who will be sitting next to you on the plane.
I had a long flight to and from the convention. I had a long connection in LA on the way out, and another in Chicago upon my return. Fortunately, friends who shared my connections were able to rescue me from my boredom.
I was lucky enough to have enough miles to get an upgrade on the way to Indianapolis. I was one of the last to get on the plane and who is sitting across the aisle from me but The Gunny, R. Lee Ermey. I wish I could say we had an entire flight of engaging conversation and he loved me so much he found me a part on one of his tv shows. But no. I received a polite nod. I do know however that he loves his Baileys and coffee. And then sleep.
- The NRA Annual Meetings are held in a different city every year.
Would I have ever gone to Indianapolis without an excuse? No, but it was a great excuse and a great opportunity to experience the city. With the Annual Meetings in a different spot every year, dedicated attendees get a chance to experience gun culture nationwide. In 2015, for example, the Meetings will be held in Nashville, Tenn. This will undoubtedly make for an amazing NRA convention as gun lovers collide with a city steeped in country music culture and history.
- Proof that a large NRA crowd keeps the bad guys away.
The convention hall was in downtown Indianapolis near the stadium and capital buildings. All of the great restaurants and bars were in the area as well. I have never been out on the streets anywhere and seen so many visible police officers. The streets were crowded with them. An officer in every restaurant, in the bars, fast food joints, you name it. I thought perhaps it was normally a sketchy area and the city did not want to look bad to all of the convention visitors.
After the show, Fox News reported that these same police officers, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, reported decreased teen violence the weekend of the NRA Annual Meetings. The report stated that is was the most peaceful Saturday in April. Have we not been making that point all along?
Getting Acquainted with the NRA
Although a member of the NRA for the last 8 years I originally joined because I had to. My first introduction to guns was being thrown in to High Power competition. You had to be a member of the NRA in order to compete and receive a classification. Over the years I became more involved in the gun culture; I started blogging, reviewing products, writing for gun publications, training in self-defense, I received my CPL, started to carry concealed, and am now a sponsored semi-professional competitor.
You could say I live and breathe the gun culture now days. In fact, in the last six months I have also become a voice in my home state of Washington to oppose an anti-gun initiative that will come to a vote this fall.
The NRA has special meaning to me now. I realized that the NRA is here for one purpose: defending our Second Amendment rights. That is it. So not only was this trip a shameless promotion of 30CalGal and her sponsors, it was a great promotion of the NRA and their aggressive campaign to “Stand and Fight.” It also was eye opening to see how the NRA is working hard to update their image and appeal to the younger generation, and especially to women. Whether you are “in the industry” or just a gun lover, this event is worth every effort to get to.
By Anette Wachter. Originally published in the June 2014 issue of GunUp the Magazine.