The NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits are three days of vast opportunity: to learn, grow, meet, share, feast, plan and otherwise expand your mind, body and soul. Of all the people, events, guns and gear, it can be tough to single out those that are particularly unique. Nonetheless, here are three prizes I found when I unwrapped the 146th NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Atlanta:
The NRA Brand Ranks With The World’s Best
As I stood in the center of NRA’s gleaming, monolithic black display booth, watching attendees line up for the NRA Carry Guard virtual reality experience, an exec from a tech company complimented the NRA brand presentation: “I go to the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas every year, and the look, the signage, the presentation of the NRA brand is as good as anything I see there.”
Case in point: the new NRA Carry Guard program, combining the very best in training, insurance and representation; spearheaded by the nation’s undisputed leader in firearms training; and backed by one of the world’s largest insurance organizations. Only NRA, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, has the resources to assemble a package this comprehensive and professional for its members, and they swarmed the opportunity to enlist.
Over and over, I heard NRA members laud NRA’s “Freedom’s Safest Place” TV campaign: “Those are some of the best ads on TV!” Each can name their own favorite. Those members will be thrilled with the new campaign from NRA Hunting: Titled “Trust The Hunter In Your Blood,” it celebrates hunting as an essential part of being human, exposing the extremists who would end the practice at any cost.
NRA enjoys higher public approval ratings than either house of Congress or either major political party—one that far outstrips that of the national news media. We’re coming off an astounding election victory: How many organizations will host an address from a sitting president?
Taken together with the successful 2016 launch of NRATV, these elements hone the image of a brand that, after 146 years, has not grown stagnant—rather, it’s a brand that’s on the rise.
Women Are Remaking NRA In Their Own Image
I can remember a time when there were more oxygen bottles than women at an NRA Annual Meeting. No longer. Women are emerging as the dominant force in NRA communications, membership, competition and fundraising.
This movement has been underway for some time: The Women’s Leadership Forum, driven by Susan LaPierre, has grown exponentially every year, featuring nationally known speakers (this year, Kellyanne Conway). It has become one of the signature events of the annual convention.
This surge is embodied by NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, a tireless dynamo who was seemingly everywhere at once—speaking at luncheons, appearing live on NRATV, signing autographs at the NRA booth, hosting hard-hitting TV ads and peering down from giant banners, in between tweeting, of course. Much of her time this year was spent introducing the new NRA Carry Guard personal protection initiative (more on that later).
Additionally, Carolyn Meadows of Marietta, Ga., was elected second vice president of the NRA, putting her in line to be the Assocation's third woman president a few years down the road. An active member of the NRA board of directors since 2003, Meadows is a political leader whose effective lobbying of Congress and Georgia legislators has been felt both locally and nationally.
Julie Golob, Natalie Foster, Kimberly Corban, Kristi McMains, Gabby Franco and far too many others to list are also busy making the 2A their own, in ways that the OWG (Old White Guys) could never have imagined. Kudos to you all, and welcome—we can’t wait to see where you take us.
Atlanta Loves The NRA
The city of Atlanta displayed the most gracious and entertaining welcome to NRA members I’ve ever seen. Every waitress, security employee, Uber driver, convention hall staffer, beat cop and bartender extended a huge smile and warm greeting.
You would think that the arrival of 81,836 paying customers would elicit that kind of reaction in all host cities—and for the most part, you’d be right. I’ve never felt unwelcome in any of the cities hosting us, but Atlanta takes the cake. From the convention center host welcoming us to the escalator “for handsome people” (for three whole days!) to the CNN Center food court hostess who gently brought me all the items I’d left behind on my path from cash register to table (twice), to the three Uber drivers named Muhammed who happily told tales of their paths to the U.S., Atlanta was a treat. If anyone had an ax to grind on our guns, they were gracious enough to keep it to themselves and treat guests like … well, guests.
In the city where CNN makes its home, this was unexpected … and delightful. Thank you, Atlanta; we love you right back.