It’s another year, and another National Rifle Association Annual Meeting (NRAAM). I’ve been going to the NRA meetings for four years now. I started going out of curiosity, the way most of my work in journalism begins. It was a way to see how the other half lives, and in this case, a way to deal with my fear of guns.
I’m not anti-gun per se, I’ve shot everything from AR-15’s with silencers to black powder rifles to 9mm glocks. But I am that “bleeding heart liberal” that believes we need a lot more gun control and that the NRA is a far more powerful association than it has any right to be.
In 2015, the first year I attended the NRAAM, nearly every single Republican running for president showed up to speak. Back in April of that year Donald Trump was a long shot candidate. But the NRA gave him a very significant slot and extra time to bring his sons on stage who are big game hunters. The talk at the time was that there was no way he was going to get the nomination (he wasn’t even officially running at that moment) – but this was the first time I thought that he had a chance of at least winning the Republican Primary.
Flash forward to 2018 in Dallas, Texas
The convention is no longer just celebration of guns and their accessories, but a fully integrated Donald Trump rally. The NRA-ILA opens with VP Pence and then President Donald Trump. The crowd loses their minds. I mean, my video cameras tripod is shaking uncontrollably on the media platform. Trump is at home, probably more here than even in West Virginia coal country. It’s an IV drip of pure concentrated MAGA going into The Donald’s arm.
Here, Trump is free to spout whatever madness and fear that he wants to shoot into the minds of 10,000 red hat wearing, gun toting (well, not in this room) Republican voting masses that look at him like he’s some sort of orange bronzed god.
Like the other speakers at the NRA-ILA meeting, Trump is there to build the fear. He tells a story of a hospital in the UK that has blood running down it’s halls like something out of a war zone.
“I recently read a story that in London, which has unbelievably tough gun laws, a once very prestigious hospital right in the middle is like a war zone for horrible stabbing wounds, they don’t have guns. They have knives, and instead there’s blood all over the floors of this hospital.”
None of that is true, mind you, but like all the speeches at the NRA, they’re not too hung up on fact.
The hero of the day is an actual real ‘good guy with a gun’ that took down the Southerland Springs, Texas shooter. He’s an NRA trained marksman, so NRA VP Wayne Lapierre and NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox give the man a life membership to the gun rights group. This runs about $1500 on the website.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz dramatically re-tells the story of Stephen Willeford as if it’s his own, dramatically moving about the stage as he tends to do, like some sort of end of days preacher. Except this isn’t a house of God, he’s not a preacher and the only thing worshiped here are weapons of death.
Walking the convention floor
Here’s the way I describe the convention show floor to people who have never been:
“Picture San Diego Comic-Con except all of the guns aren’t toys, and every single person in the building pictures themselves as a real super hero.”
The showroom floor this year was roughly 600,000 square feet of guns, ammo, scopes and other related paraphernalia. That’s about 10 and a half football fields.
The NRA’s mantra of “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun,” is on show for all to see here. Wayne Lapierre touted the “fact” that when an NRA convention is in town, the town is the safest it ever will be. That’s in a twisted way true, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, “…Gunshot-related deaths and injuries temporarily show a dramatic decline when the National Rifle Association is holding its annual convention.”
The halls are lined with every single thing that you’d need to be a soldier in the coming war against [insert enemy here]. There’s the prepper foods, there’s the gun safes, there’s camo backpacks, knives, helicopters… every single thing that someone who watched Red Dawn just one too many times might need.
The whole experience of the NRA is one that brings you together as one – gives you an enemy (usually socialism related)… then sells you a product that solves that thing… then sends you out into the world convinced that you’re a sheepdog ready to take on the wolves. Nevermind how many sheep might get lost in the ensuing battle.