This feature appears in the July ‘17 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.
When 81,836 National Rifle Association members gathered in Atlanta in late April for the 146th NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits, it was the second-largest crowd in NRA’s history.
From dignitaries like Chris W. Cox, President Donald Trump and Wayne LaPierre, to the 11 acres of guns and gear on the show floor, this year's annual meetings had something for everyone. Exhibit hall photo by James Powell, Chis Cox/Trump/Wayne Lapierre photo by Michael Ives
And this year’s gathering was a treat for all in attendance, with a visit from President Donald Trump topping the list of star-studded activities.
After being endorsed by the NRA at last year’s event, this year Trump told a packed audience that he will stand by gun owners—just like they stood by him in the 2016 presidential election.
“Let me make a simple promise to every one of the freedom-loving Americans in the audience today,” Trump said at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum. “As your president, I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
“Freedom is not a gift from government. Freedom is a gift from God.”
Trump, the first sitting president to address the NRA convention since Ronald Reagan in 1983, recalled the tough fight for the presidency, in which NRA was one of the first major organizations to endorse him. Yet it was still an uphill battle against most in the so-called “mainstream” media.
“Remember they said, ‘There is no path to 270.’ For months I was hearing that,” he said, referring to the number of electoral votes needed to win the election. “We ended up with 306, so they were right!
“You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you,” he said.
To cheers from the crowd, Trump described how the long years of having an anti-gun president in the White House are thankfully over.
“The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end,” he said. “No longer will federal agencies be going after law-abiding gun owners. No longer will government be trying to undermine your rights and your freedoms as Americans.”
Instead, Trump said, he would work together with the NRA to promote responsible gun ownership and ensure “the sacred right of self-defense for all of our citizens.”
“Public officials must serve under the Constitution, not above it,” he said. “We all took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and that means defending the Second Amendment.”
“The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.” — President Donald TrumpTrump pointed to the recent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court as one of the many campaign promises he has already kept since becoming president.
“I promised that if elected I would nominate a justice who would be faithful and loyal to the Constitution,” he said. “I even went one step further and publicly presented a list of 20 justices from which I would make my selection. And that’s exactly what we did.
“I kept my promise. And now, with your help, our brand-new justice … Neil Gorsuch sits on the bench of the United States Supreme Court. For the first time in the modern political era, we have confirmed a new justice in the first 100 days.”
Yet despite November’s stunning victory and all his accomplishments during the first 100 days of his administration, Trump warned that now is no time to let up in the fight for freedom and our right to keep and bear arms.
“We can’t be complacent,” he said. “These are dangerous times ... for certain obvious reasons. Every day we are up against those who would take away our freedoms, restrict our liberties, and even those who want to abolish the Second Amendment. We must be vigilant, and I know you all are up to the task.”
Trump wrapped up the address by thanking NRA members for their efforts during last fall’s presidential election, when they and other gun owners were so instrumental in helping him defeat Hillary Clinton.
“I greatly appreciated your support in what will hopefully be one of the most important and positive elections for the United States of all time,” he said. “To the NRA, I can proudly say I will never, ever let you down.”
Trump was just one of the weekend’s many important speakers. At both the NRA-ILA Forum and the next day’s Annual Meeting of Members, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre reminded members in the audience just what Trump’s Friday address represented.
Recounting how NRA members have fought—and won—together for generations, LaPierre gave them credit for electing Trump. “The leftists may deny it, the media might ignore it, but President Trump knows it: NRA members helped put him over the top, and because of you and so many more like you all over this country, the NRA helped put President Trump in the White House,” he said.
LaPierre quickly moved to address the challenges that remain. Alluding to a possible two-term Trump presidency, he called them the “fateful eight years.”
NRA celebrities like commentator Coion Noir (top) and new President Pete Brownell drew crowds wherever they went. Noir photo by James Powell, Brownell photo by Michael Ives
“The next eight years spell the difference between a Second Amendment left critically vulnerable to dismantling … or a freedom preserved for an entire generation,” he said. “The next eight years will determine whether your children and grandchildren enjoy the freedoms of our generation … or become shackled by restrictions so severe the Second Amendment might as well not exist at all.
“For America’s law-abiding gun owners, the next eight years … are the fateful eight years.”
Even considering the confirmation of Gorsuch, LaPierre outlined the magnitude of the challenge remaining in the federal courts.
“Obama appointed 331 judges to federal courts,” he said. “That’s more than a third of the entire federal judiciary.
“He flipped the partisan balance on 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals. When Obama took office, only one had a majority of Democratic appointees. Now, nine do.”
LaPierre cited the 4th Circuit Court’s recent decision gutting the Heller case, saying, “That is how you get Maryland’s 4th Circuit thumbing its nose at the U.S. Supreme Court. (They) just ignored the Supreme Court and upheld a ban on the most popular rifle in America.
“We are grateful for Judge Gorsuch. And it’s time for 100 more conservative, pro-Second Amendment judges on the bench.”
LaPierre called out state anti-gun regimes where “liberal left-wing Obama courts literally sneer at the Second Amendment.” He specifically cited New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, Washington state, Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois, California and the District of Columbia.
LaPierre also called out an education bureaucracy that doesn’t teach about freedom. “In far too many classrooms, the U.S. Constitution is ignored … the Second Amendment discarded or bizarrely twisted to fit the liberal agenda of teachers and professors,” he said.
“That is the freedom for which we, the 5 million men and women of the NRA, stand and fight every single day. And for the next fateful eight years … that is the freedom we will never surrender.”
NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox then picked up the theme, reminding NRA members of how much they had accomplished since last year’s meeting in Louisville, Ky.
“If you run against the Second Amendment freedom of everyday American citizens, you put your future in direct opposition to the most powerful grassroots force in history.” — NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox“He was just candidate Trump back then. But he was our candidate,” Cox said. “And we were ready to fight like hell for the soul of this country.”
Cox reminded members how media laughed off the Association’s commitment to Trump.
“When we made the earliest presidential endorsement in NRA history, the media said we were ‘buying deck chairs on Trump’s Titanic,’” he said. “You spread the word. You kept the faith. You wrote the checks that put our message on the air. And when Election Day came, you stormed the voting booths in every corner of the country, and as a result, President Donald Trump joined us here in Atlanta!”
Cox reminded attendees how dim the future was only a year ago: “The Supreme Court was deadlocked 4 to 4 … ISIS was slashing a bloody trail toward our doorstep … our enemies no longer even pretended to take us seriously.
“At home … cities like Chicago became safe havens for killers, where nearly 4,000 people were murdered while Obama was president. … Heroes who wake up every day willing to risk their lives for our safety were left vulnerable by a despicable lack of support.”
How different things look today with Trump in the White House.
“President Trump made good on his promise to appoint a constitutionally sound justice to the Supreme Court,” Cox said. “Vice President Mike Pence (is) fighting for you every day … Jeff Sessions runs the Justice Department … instead of a tree-hugging, hunter-hating, land-locking bureaucrat running the Department of the Interior, we now have Ryan Zinke—a veteran Navy SEAL, an avid hunter and an NRA Life member who eliminated Obama’s ban on lead ammunition on his first day in office.
“And thanks to you … Gen. James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis runs the Department of Defense!”
Cox outlined the NRA’s legislative priorities for the current session—national Right-to-Carry reciprocity and the removal of the onerous governmental restrictions on suppressors that could save gun owners’ hearing.
On Right-to-Carry reciprocity, Cox said, “Innocent, well-meaning people have gone to jail and had their lives turned upside-down at the hands of states like New Jersey—where Second Amendment freedom is criminalized.
“It’s a sorry state of affairs when 10 states can deny a constitutional freedom to law-abiding American citizens.”
Reciprocity, he said, “simply says that if you have the right to carry in your home state, then you ought to have the same right to keep and bear arms in the rest of America.”
Regarding suppressors, Cox stated, “Your hearing is too important to be hidden behind a $200 federal tax, fingerprints and a nine-month paper chase.
Cox then challenged U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., for her claims that a gun with a suppressor, called a “silencer” by some, is completely quiet.
“Senator, I’ll meet you down at the NRA range any time you’d like,” Cox said. “I’ll bring my .300 Win. Mag. and a suppressor and let you set up safely behind me. And for every round I shoot before you cry and put some hearing protection on, I’ll donate 100 bucks to charity.”
Looking toward the 2018 midterm elections, Cox closed with a warning—and a promise. “If you run against the Second Amendment freedom of everyday American citizens, you put your future in direct opposition to the most powerful grassroots force in history,” Cox told the crowd.
“We are the National Rifle Association of America. And we are, now and forever, Freedom’s Safest Place.”
The speakers weren’t the only part of the Meetings that exceeded expectations. This year’s Exhibit Hall—always one of the most popular draws of the meetings—was more impressive than ever, with 15 acres of the latest guns and gear on display for all to see. And like past years, the crowds were impressive and the aisles were full.
No area was more crowded, though, than the NRA booth: It was here that the Association officially introduced NRA Carry Guard, complete with simulated concealed-carry scenarios experienced by hundreds of meeting-goers. The new venture offers innovative training tailored to real-life conditions and top-of-the-line insurance packages for everyone who carries a gun for self-defense.
As LaPierre said during a speech at the Members Meeting, “NRA Carry Guard is the most comprehensive level of personal protection training, education and insurance for every law-abiding citizen who carries a firearm. It’s the most elite, essential and effective training that’s available in the United States of America. And an NRA Carry Guard card should be in the wallet or the purse of every American citizen.”
Other celebrities in attendance included Women's Leadership Forum Chair Susan LaPierre (top), and Midway USA's Larry and Brenda Potterfield. LaPierre photo by Chris Hollo, Potterfields photo by NRA staff
At the NRA Board of Directors meeting following the Annual Meetings, board members elected Pete Brownell of Montezuma, Iowa, to be the new NRA president.
Brownell, who has been an NRA Life member since birth, is CEO of Brownells, the family-owned mail-order business that has supplied firearms and firearm accessories to Americans for nearly 80 years.
“It’s an honor and privilege to serve the 5 million members of the National Rifle Association of America,” Brownell said following the election. “I am humbled to serve alongside Wayne LaPierre—the true heart and soul of this Association—and to walk in the footsteps of my predecessors.
“I’m a proud NRA member from Day One who grew up with a passion for guns, our rich hunting heritage, and a passion to strengthen our Second Amendment.”
NASCAR legend Richard Childress of Welcome, N.C., who has served as NRA second vice president for the past two years, was elected first vice president. Childress is chairman and CEO of Richard Childress Racing, as well as an accomplished conservationist and activist for the protection of our natural resources, having supported groups such as the Boone & Crockett Club, Ducks Unlimited and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Carolyn D. Meadows of Marietta, Ga., was elected second vice president. 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. Also a passionate shooter and hunter, Meadows provides gun safety courses for children and adults on a volunteer basis.
Next year’s NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits is set for May 4-6 in Dallas. We hope to see you there.