Published on
The Independent/UK

Trigger Happy: Inside the NRA's Annual Convention

Rifle raffles, pistols as long as your arm and hundreds of people whose answer to the Newtown massacre is to put armed guards in primary schools. It can only be the NRA’s annual conference

David Usborne

NRA conference attendee Janet Bero waits to have her German lugar appraised. (Photo: AP)

There isn’t much sanctuary from the percussive bombardment that is the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting. You could have nipped into the Wild Game Cooking Seminar with chef Paul Meleen on the third level of the convention centre here in Houston. Or for real respite, maybe the gentleman’s loo.

Ping, ping, ping! Blam, blam, blam! These are the ballistic sound effects blasting out from the stands crammed into the main exhibitors’ floor. Roll up, roll up for the new SigSauer MPX. The next generation of submachine guns is here! Come on over to Crosman and take a look at our brand new Zombie Terminator Pump Action Rifle. Good thing it only fires pellets, because it is packaged like a toy. Zombies are hot right now; so are guns for kids.

For sheer luxe try the Beretta stand where the lead salesman switches between English and Italian (still with a bit of a Texas twang) and the camel-coloured carpeting is especially cushy. They have pistols in there longer than a man’s arm. Or for the very best in subtle branding step over to the Advanced Armament Corp with its attractive logo of a skull and crossed assault weapons beneath it instead of bones. Lest we forget that guns kill.

The sales pressure is on! People here mean to load you up with laser sights, bullets, magazines, holsters, gun-stands, credit cards and even mortgages. Or how about enrolling your kids at the independent Hillsdale College in central Michigan, where gunmanship is a special focus.

The other banging sound from higher floors in the convention hall is made by political chest-beating. While the annual NRA meeting is part jamboree, it is above all about reinforcing what the organisation exists for – lobbying Washington and stopping anyone, anywhere from encroaching on the rights of Americans to bear arms, enunciated in the second amendment to the Constitution.

And this is not an ordinary year or an ordinary meeting. The most powerful gun-rights lobbying group in the land, the NRA found itself on the defensive after the Newtown elementary school massacre in Connecticut last December. Here in Houston it is celebrating its success in derailing President Barack Obama’s effort to push Congress to pass new gun laws. “If you are an NRA member, you deserve to be proud,” Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s take-no-prisoners chief executive told his members. They, he added, “exemplify everything that’s good and right about America”.

But the NRA leadership remains wary, conscious of polls saying that 80 per cent of Americans support the President, at least as far as his plan for expanding background checks for gun buyers. The authors of the bill that failed in the US Senate last month are vowing to bring it back for a vote soon. “We’re engaged in a long battle that will take years. We know it’s not over,” said Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s director of public affairs. There is a sense of defiance and urgency here, which is why this year’s meeting is drawing a record 70,000 members.

Read the full article at The Independent.

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