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Snapshots from the NRA national meeting

Snapshots from the
NRA national meeting

April, 2014

By Massad Ayoob
Photos by Gail Pepin

Website Exclusive • May, 2014

The gargantuan convention center with “9 acres” of guns on display.

In April of 2014, an estimated 76,000 members of the National Rifle Association convened in Indianapolis for NRAAM, the NRA’s Annual Meeting. It wasn’t my first time at one, and hopefully, won’t be the last. Nine or so acres of convention space were covered with booths exhibiting the latest in firearms and accessories. Members could attend professionally-presented lectures on everything from firearms history to the current state of legislative affairs relating to gun owners’ civil rights.

Yeah, one hat I wear is that of gun writer, and I’m supposed to talk about all the cool hardware. I’ll touch on that here shortly, but I gotta say, that ain’t what NRAAM is really about.

It’s about being a scorned and sometimes closeted minority, the American gun owner. It recharges your batteries to find yourself in the company of tens of thousands of people who share your values and beliefs … in this case, some 76,000 attendees. According to the Indianapolis Star newspaper — which, I thought, covered the event very fairly and professionally — the NRA people spent some 55 million dollars on food, lodging, etc. while at NRAAM. (Naturally, one news source had to phrase that ominously and somewhat disingenuously as NRA’s “55 million dollar impact” on the city’s economy. Sigh…)

The “Moms Demand Action” counter-NRA rally
was not the 300-strong it was purported to be.

Hypocrisy on parade

It is axiomatic that we are known by our enemies. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has long shown an obsession with “gun control,” carefully timed the announcement of his new “Everytown” anti-gun organization to shortly precede NRAAM. The face of that organization is Shannon Watts, who oddly enough, lives in greater Indianapolis.

Bloomberg had infused $50 million, a relatively small piece of his reported $33 billion fortune, to the Everytown effort. They called it “grassroots,” which the gun people found to be hysterically funny. By definition, a grassroots movement begins on the ground with the people, and grows upward. As my friend and fellow gun owners’ civil rights activist Miggy Gonzalez put it so well, you can’t lay down fake Astro-Turf from above and say you’ve created a grassroots movement.

It was announced with much ballyhoo that the Everytown people would stage a counter-demonstration “near” the NRA meeting. My sweetie and I decided that would be worth taking in, so we walked from the convention center to the “few blocks away” where it was supposed to be happening. Turned out to be a whole lot more blocks than that. One friend went on the internet and determined that the park in which the Everytown folks demanded more “gun control” was 1.4 miles from the NRA convention site. Gee … I always thought people with righteous cause to protest did it right in the face of the people they were protesting against.

One of the armed security, a/k/a men in black, hired to escort the gun control advocates.

We got there late because of the long walk, but what we found was so funny, I put it in my blog at www.backwoodshome.com/blogs/massadayoob, datelined April 27, 2014:

“The Evil Princess and I took a pleasant spring day walk from the NRA meeting at the convention center in Indianapolis to the Veterans Park, where the Bloomberg-financed Everytown crew was holding forth. How ironic that they would speak for diminution of gun owners’ civil rights in the shadow of a monument to those who died fighting for those rights…

“We couldn’t help but notice the guys straight out of central casting, burly fellas with black suits, Oakley style black glasses, and most with obligatory shaven heads. One confirmed to me that they were ‘private security,’ and ‘three or four’ in number. Didn’t look quite like the 300 protesters they claimed…

“Reportedly, several of those folks had to be bused in, courtesy of the Bloomberg money. Meanwhile, some 18,000 women came on their own to the NRA meeting, according to the Indianapolis Star, which seems to be giving fair and balanced coverage.

“The whole anti-gun group in the park wouldn’t have filled one aisle in the nine acres of gun displays at the NRA meeting. Yet they claim to represent the majority. Clearly, New York City chutzpah was imported to Hoosier country along with the New York City dollars.”

Others who were keeping track noticed that a reporter who asked Ms. Watts questions she didn’t like was ignored, and some said she was brushed aside by the armed security force. The “Everytown” people later admitted that their security personnel were indeed carrying concealed firearms. They explained that they had to, because of death threats from evil people on the gun owners’ side.

Admittedly, Ms. Watts did not have as many armed security personnel surrounding her as Michael Bloomberg has armed security personnel surrounding HIM. But that’s only a matter of different levels of hyposcrisy, not whether or not the “guns for privileged we, but not for peasant thee” crowd are being hypocritical. Their hypocrisy is, I think, altogether too clear for me to need to belabor that point further in these pages.

Editorial cartoon which ran during the NRA convention in the Indianapolis Star.

In perspective

Indianapolis Star Sunday edition front page during show. Author found the paper impartial and fair.

Boiling it down to one super-rich anti-gunner versus five million members of the NRA does, indeed, smack of over-simplification. But 76,000 of us ordinary peasants American citizens brought more dollars into one heartland city over the course of a three-day convention than the sixteenth-richest human being on the Planet Earth put into his entire nationwide “anti-NRA” organization. Those 76,000 of us didn’t need anyone to recruit us (or pay us, maybe?) to come to the convention; many if not most of the 200 or so people who showed up for the “Anti-NRA” demonstration apparently WERE subsidized.

Money can buy a lot of things.

But, apparently, it can’t buy inspiration. It can’t buy dedication and commitment.

I, for one, take this element of “them versus us” as a good sign for “us.”

Meanwhile, back at the convention…

Yeah, sure, there were a lot of the people the media stereotypes as “typical gun owners,” the OFWGs. Depending on who you talk to, OFWG stands for “Old F—in’ White Guys” or “Old Fat White Guys.”

But they damn sure didn’t come alone.

Old? Yep, shooters are graying, for sure. But we saw a lot of young people there. Hell, the young folks some call “millennials” have their own gun magazine, Recoil. It’s pretty cool, too, and if you go into a Barnes & Noble periodical section, you’ll probably see it displayed more prominently than any other gunzine. I see it at the big box stores and in supermarkets, too. Shooters of that generation were out in force at NRAAM.

White? Yep, but hangin’ with African-American folks and Asian folks and Hispanic folks and every other color of the proverbial rainbow.

Male? Yep. Cross culturally, guns are like motorcycles and martial arts: they’re seen as “guy things.” The Indianapolis newspaper reported some 18,000 women out of those estimated 76,000 attendees. That comes out to 23.6%. Across the country, sales of guns to women and applications by women for concealed carry permits and hunting licenses are rising so fast that local newspapers are doing “change in the demographics” stories about it all.

The female presence was particularly strong on the industry side. While I was at NRAAM I ordered seven firearms to test for the various gun magazines I write for. Those orders by writers, since one write-up on a test gun can impact a huge number of potential buyers, go through gun company execs. Almost half of those orders, three out of seven, were taken by female executives of the firearms industry.

While at NRAAM, I was one of five authors who did book-signings at the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network (armedcitizensnetwork.org) booth. 40% of those authors, Gila Hayes and Kathy Jackson, were female.

“The Gun Culture” embraces Christian and Jew, Moslem and Sikh, agnostic and atheist, and every permutation in between. I met and shook hands with all of the above at NRAAM. Don’t believe everything you read in the mainstream media. There was solidarity on common ground: a recognition of responsibility to protect self and loved ones, and an understanding that those who win popularity contests and become lawmakers don’t necessarily “hold an exclusive” on common sense, or logic, or ethics.

A week or so after the NRA convention and its attendees had packed up and gone home, something interesting hit the news. Crime in the city of Indianapolis, Indiana had gone DOWN while seventy-some-thousand “gun people” were visiting.

From left: Mas, Grant Cunningham, F+W Publishing exec Jim Schlender,
and Gila Hayes at ACLDN booth at NRA show.

At NRA show, Mas meets YouTube gun star Hickok45,
and finds out why Hickok’s Glock 42 looked smaller than his own.

Oh, yeah…there were new guns there

NRAAM could be described as the largest gun show in the nation open to the average citizen, the only requirement to attend being NRA membership. The only bigger one is the SHOT Show (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show), which limits attendance to retailers and industry people in the field.

Putting my “gun writer” hat on for a moment, I did indeed see some cool new stuff. The single most game-changing product I ran across was Remington’s new muzzle-loading rifle. Based on their classic, hugely popular bolt-action Model 700 hunting rifle, this one sets new standards in two ways: long range accuracy and power, and safety.

Remington staffer demonstrates his company’s new high-performance muzzle-loader.

They recommend loading with powder pellets, one for a low velocity practice and plinking load, and four to get maximum range and power. It reaches new levels of velocity and flat bullet trajectory, both of which extend range. Mount a state of the art telescopic sight, and you’ve got your best chance of gathering some extra winter venison. I say “extra” because most states have a separate muzzle-loader season just like they have a separate archery hunting season, which are generally separate from the regular hunting season with modern guns and allow the sporting person to gather one or more additional deer for the larder.

If you hunt with a muzzle loader to get in touch with mountain man roots, this ultra-modern rifle is not for you. But if you want maximum accuracy and efficiency for a quick, clean kill, it’s gonna be hard to beat this new Remington during muzzle loader season.

Where does the safety come in? For centuries, muzzle loading rifles have been infamously hard to UNLOAD and return to a totally safe storage condition. Historically, they were made safe — emptied — by firing them. I remember the tragic case just a few years ago of the muzzle-loader hunter who emptied his rifle by simply firing it into the air. The projectile came down a great distance away, and struck in the head and instantly killed a teenage Amish girl riding in a buggy. That sort of thing breaks all our hearts.

With this new Remington, though, the powder pellets go down the barrel, and then the projectile. They remain there, inert, until the priming unit is inserted into the rifle. This takes the form of what looks like a short .308 rifle case, containing a conventional centerfire rifle primer. It goes in through the breech, like hand-feeding a rifle cartridge into the chamber of a conventional Model 700.

Time to unload it? Simply pull the bolt back, and eject the quasi-cartridge casing which contains the primer. Leave the action open. End of story: gun effectively neutralized until that device is reinserted. It’s easier and more obviously safe than simply removing cap from nipple on a percussion-cap rifle, or removing the flint from the lock on a flintlock. A distinct movement forward in the engineering safety of a muzzle-loading firearm, in this writer’s opinion.

Poster for Remington’s new Model 700 muzzle-loader.

There was also the new rifle from Ares which appears to be designed as an upraised middle finger to malum prohibitum laws in roughly a fifth of our states now, which limit cartridge capacity. (A brief digression: malum prohibitum when translated from Latin means essentially, “It’s illegal because we prohibited it.” Translated from logic, it means “It’s bad because we said it’s bad.” This stands in contrast to malum in se, which means that the thing is evil in and of itself. These are crimes which, throughout the history of human civilization, have been rigidly prohibited and severely punished: Murder, rape, child abuse, theft. Indisputably in honest debate, things like magazine capacity limit laws are malum prohibitum, not malum in se in nature.)

This Ares rifle also addresses so-called “assault weapon bans” which, in the best tradition of malum prohibitum, forbid telescoping stocks, pistol grips, and similar features. It looks like an ordinary, generic sporting rifle. However, it takes any magazine that an AR15 in the same caliber will work with, and looks more like a Boy Scout’s .22 than what a soldier or Marine would carry into combat.

Ken Flood, director of sales for Ares, demonstrates his company’s new “traditional sporting configuration” alternative to the AR15.

When misguided lawmakers attempt to disarm honest citizens, the citizens adapt. Consider the Okinawan martial art of weaponcraft known as kobu-do. In ancient times, when the Japanese took over Okinawa and banned civilian possession of swords and other per se weapons, the peasantry learned to turn ordinary things to the purposes their conquerors feared. The L-shaped millstone grinder, the tonfa, became the core of a fighting system in which the peasant held the short handle in his fist, with the long part of the grinder under his forearm. It became an amazingly effective blocking device by simply raising the arm, and by spinning the short handle, the long end swung with crushing force. The sai, a short trident with a lengthened middle prong, used originally for spearing fish, became the focal point of a clever strategy. You would “catch” the long sword, the katana, of the emperor’s samurai with the sai you held in one hand, and stab him through and through with the long point of the one in your other hand. The nunchaku, a rice flail consisting of two short sticks chained together, was the genesis of a weapon that could be used as a wrist- or neck-breaking nutcracker, or a bone-crushing flail, known colloquially in America today as “nunchuks.”

The Ares SCR (Sport Configurable Rifle) carries a whiff of that spirit. Looks like a hunter’s traditional game harvesting tool, fights “above its weight class” if used as a defensive weapon. Over at the Truth About Guns internet site, Nick Leghorn describes the SCR as “like an AR-15 had a one-night stand with a Remington 700.”

In handguns, most of the push is in the concealed carry/personal defense market. Call me retro, but the single new entry that most captured my attention was a Smith & Wesson K-38 revolver — the Model 14 from S&W’s popular but pricy “Classic” line — modified with a fluted Douglas barrel by Clark Custom. Founded by the great Jim Clark in mid-20th century and now led by his second and third generation descendants, Clark Custom continues the tradition of fine, purpose-built craftsmanship. This particular revolver is made expressly for perfect balance in one-handed bulls-eye matches. In the last decade or so, the “obsolete” revolver has regained so much popularity that at the National Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio, they have not one but two matches for the old six-shooters: the Harry Reeves event, commemorating one of the great old-time shooters, and the Distinguished Revolver match.

The ammo makers were there too of course, spending much of their time explaining supply and demand to NRA members who are not happy about either the low availability or the high prices of today. The supply does seem to be easing up, but prices don’t seem to be coming down much.

The packed show floor at NRAAM.

Century Arms 3-shot revolver will be an interesting conversation piece.

Into the future

On the legislative front, it’s a see-saw battle; we are winning some, and losing some. On the west coast, the Ninth Circuit’s Peruta decision against stringent may-issue policies on concealed carry permits has given hope to residents of California and Hawaii that they may soon be able to carry concealed handguns in public to better protect themselves and their families, as has become the norm in most of the rest of the USA. But, only a couple of weeks after the NRA conference, the New Jersey state senate passed a bill creating tighter restrictions in terms of magazine capacity.

The NRA is recognized as perhaps the truest example of a “grassroots lobby” that can be found on Capitol Hill, and one of the strongest…some say, THE strongest. By all accounts, there are a hundred million gun owners in this country at the very least, yet only five million belong to the National Rifle Association. We can only imagine how strong our collective voice would be if every gun owner belonged.

The good news is, comparing the NRA with the prohibitionist forces in Indianapolis during the convention was reassuring to say the least. Next year, the NRAAM will be convened in Nashville, Tennessee.

I hope to see you there.