By Tom McHale
USA -(Ammoland.com)- I have a serious love/hate relationship with the NRA Annual Meeting.
The hate part is easy – it’s always a logistical nightmare. Hosted in cities that are completely unprepared for 75,000 instant hotel-stayers, hotel rape is rampant. If you can find a room downtown, it’ll cost ya north of $300 a night for a flea palace. If you choose to save money and stay 30 miles away, you can count of a good adventure getting into town and parking.
The love part is also easy. It’s the people. I challenge you to find any other group of 75,000 or so, polite, respectful, and downright interesting people. The aisles are crowded, and bumper-people is inevitable, but you'll hear hundreds of “pardon me's,” “excuse me sirs.” and “sorry's” each time you navigate the crowds on the show floor. You'll see families, politicians, and most likely The Nuge.
This year I thought you might enjoy a photo essay of some of the interesting people of the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting.
I always love meeting random families from all over. This year, a father and his two sons caught my eye at the FN America booth. They were checking out a big helicopter-mounted ma deuce that was available for inspection and fantasizing about being a tail gunner.
I knew we had a lot in common. They were at the NRA Annual Meeting. They were checking out cool military guns at the FN America booth. That's enough to strike up a new friendship, right? It works for me.
What got my attention was Ray's shirt. It's seriously patriotic as you can see in the photo above. When I asked him about it, he told me his wife Rebecca made it. He wears it a lot, not just to display his American pride, but at large events, it makes it easy for his kids to find him. While I met many “Rays” at the NRA Annual Meeting, this new friend encounter is a perfect example of what I love about the event. You can literally strike up a conversation with just about anyone. It's a really, really friendly crowd.
I do love that the NRA members put their money where their mouth is. Concealed carry is legal in the Music City Center per Tenessee state law, so there are literally thousands of people carrying concealed guns in the exhibit hall and surrounding street exhibits.
I'll bet there are more guns per square foot here than Kanye West tasteless gaffes at a music awards show.
But do you know what? There's no crime. No one freaks out and starts shooting people. None of the convention hall people crashes escalate into gunfights. The anti-gunners must think this is an actual miracle. We know better. It's just a large group of responsible, respectful and law abiding people. Yep, it's that simple.
Every year I wonder how much it would freak out anti-gun politicians and tyrannical little ex-Mayors to know that hundreds of VIPs and celebrities are shuffling through the exhibit halls with us regular folk, even though they are literally surrounded by people with guns! Gah! None of these VIPs ever look very concerned to me. They know they're in law abiding company and arguably the safest place in the known universe.
The New Uncle Sam
While doing a book signing at the Galco booth, I had the pleasure of meeting the real deal – the NEW Uncle Sam. This one doesn't gorge himself on your hard earned money. He spends his time traveling to various events to talk to people about the importance of our constitutional republic. He also spends his time, money and energy raising money and awareness to support veterans. This is the Uncle Sam I want to know and yet another example of the type of great Americans you meet at the NRA Annual Meeting.
Nashville really did the NRA Annual Meeting Right. There were Nashville Metro Police Department officers everywhere, both inside and outside of the venues. They weren't there to be all intimidating, but rather to make things run smoothly. 75,000 people are hard to handle all at once. Traffic was a relative breeze, officers helped people get around and were a welcome presence all in all.
I had the pleasure of meeting Officer Rob B. outside of the NRA Store in the Music City Center. I asked him about the crowd, the event, and how things were going. He told me things were calm, and the crowd was exceptionally friendly and respectful. He indicated that a number of folks had approached him to thank him and fellow officers for their work during the event. No trouble, fights or problems according to Rob, but he did mention one issue. The most serious law enforcement program so far had been a few people losing track of their cell phones and asking officers if they had been found. Those NRA member hooligans…
At NRA's annual member meeting you will see lots of actual people doing things that actually make a difference in gun safety. I challenge you to ask the next Mom's Demand Action from the Everytown for Gun Safety member you see to tell you about their gun safety programs. Here, you'll see plenty. I happened to bump into one particular celebrity, Eddie Eagle, on day one in the (gorgeous) outdoor exhibit area. He was taking in some tunes from the live music stage and meeting and greeting his fans.
Eddie has been busy with new DVD programs and an all-new website. Check it out!
There's always one in every crowd. There I was, trying to take a serious picture of NRA and Harris Publications gun writer Jorge Amselle and his son Nick, and wouldn't you know, Galco Gunleather's Mike Barham just had to bomb the picture. As you can tell by his professional form, he's done this before.
Mike, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem…
The NRA Annual Meeting is full of veterans and even some currently serving members of the US Armed forces. I met a couple of shooters from the US Army Marksmanship Unit on Friday. Christopher Ortega, on the left, is the recruiting liaison for the Army Marksmanship Unit while Joshua Richmond specializes in shotgun. There to pal around was Team Mossberg shotgun exhibition shooter Micah Mcmillan.
Top Shot Champs
One of the fine NRA people I've had the pleasure to get to know is Top Shot Champ Chris Cheng. One of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, he's always sporting a smile and great attitude. I got a little suspicious about a three foot long mystery case he was toting around the show floor. Then, all became clear when he assumed a firing position to launch a Stinger missile at Top Shot rival Gabby Franco.
Anything to win, eh Chris?
It's Presidential election season, so the politicians come out in force, those that want to be known as Second Amendment advocates anyway. You'll literally bump into them in the halls or on the show floor. A couple of Presidential hopefuls here this weekend included Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and the . Oh, and his hair.
The NRA Annual meeting is chock full of incredible examples of gun making skills and craftsmanship. One of my favorite stops is Turnbull Restoration and Manufacturing. I had the pleasure of chatting with the head guy, Doug Turnbull. He showed me a couple of his favorites including the Heritage Commander. The case hardening on the frame makes this gun incredible. But then again, there's the BBQ series with stag grips, color case-hardened frame and custom engraving. I want one. Or maybe two.
I've got a pretty beat up Colt 1903 that's just itching for a trip to Turnbull. I'll bet they can turn that beast into a beauty.
It's Nashville folks! There are more boots per square foot of venue space than even that of concealed carriers. Here's a shot of two of my favorite NRA peeps sporting their boots. Lars Dalseide, the chief editor on the scene for NRA Blog, and soon to be Media Liaison for the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. On the right, you see Smith & Wesson pro-shooter and tireless advocate Julie Golob sportin' her boots. I'll let you guess who is wearing the Danner Mountain Lite II's.
When all is said and done, and I have to take out a second mortgage on my house to cover the hotel bills, it's worth it. I try to make the NRA Annual Meeting every year and am always thankful for the experience. If you haven't been to one, put it on your bucket list.
Next year, the great city of Louisville, KY is hosting. Be there!
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.