INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — With an anticipated 75,000 attendees and an economic spin-off estimated at $35 million, the NRA’s 148th annual meeting in Indianapolis this week is obviously important to the city’s convention business.
Just as crucial is a strong showing to boost the financial outlook of the gun rights organization.
A recent study by Ohio State University Business Professor Brian Mittendorf looked at the NRA’s Form 990 filing with the IRS in 2017, which indicated the organization had an almost $32 million unrestricted asset deficit.
This week’s conference will mark the second of three NRA annual meeting appearances within a decade in Indianapolis, following the initial convention in 2014.
“We learned that Indianapolis was very popular in the minds of the NRA attendees and the exhibitors,” said Visit Indy Senior Vice President Chris Gahl. “Candidly, they had a very productive and positive show here in Indianapolis that produced a lot of revenue, as they host many ancillary events that help raise money for the NRA.”
The arrival of the conference comes as state lawmakers are wrapping up their session at the General Assembly, where gun rights supporters recognized attempts by groups even farther to the right of the NRA to water down compromises on firearms bills.
“We’ve seen stories about how NRA fund raising is falling off, and I don’t think they’re comfortable with defector talk,” said Dr. Jody Lynee Madeira of Indiana University, who expects more messages this week about the nation’s imperiled Second Amendment rights. “The NRA comes out and says, ‘This might be it, this might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,’ and I think that further spurs so called panic buys that occur.”
During last year’s conference in Dallas, the NRA boasted it was stronger than ever.
“As we meet here today, the NRA’s membership is at an all-time high, approaching six million active members and thousands more are joining every single day,” claimed NRA Executive Vice President & CEO Wayne LaPierre. “While they write our obituary, more Americans belong to the National Rifle Association of America at right this second than at any other point of our 147 year history.”
Following the February 2018 tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which took 17 lives and led the NRA to blame the FBI for missed signals and a local sheriff’s deputy who did not enter the school when the first shots rang out, several corporations ended their endorsement partnerships with the organization.
“But holding failed leaders accountable and fixing the broken culture that allowed this tragedy to happen isn’t the point for these people,” said NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox, who blasted the group’s critics. “We have to understand they are waging an all-out war against our organization.
“Love us or hate us, there isn’t a movement in America that doesn’t wish they could figure out how we do it.”
Paul Helmke, former mayor of Fort Wayne and ex-president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said he spent five years in a futile attempt to meet LaPierre and the NRA face-to-face to find common ground in the struggle to reduce gun violence.
“They don’t want to compromise,” said Helmke. “They’re all about fear and selling fear and selling guns, shilling for the gun manufacturers. They don’t really care, in my mind, about making our community safer, they don’t care about finding some way forward legislatively to restrict access to the guns to bad guys. They’re a scary group. They push guns and they push fear because that helps gun sales.”
According to figures compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for the Department of Justice, 2016, the year pollsters predicted Democrat Hillary Clinton would defeat Republican Donald Trump for the presidency, was the high point for American gun manufacturers, with 11,497,441 firearms made in the U.S., which resulted in $68,614,000 in taxes collected, nearly double the revenue of the year before.
“Without the NRA, there wouldn’t have been a new gun made in America in the past decade, because every manufacturer would have been sued out of existence,” claimed Cox to the Dallas NRA crowd. “Is the NRA the only thing standing between the most organized and energized enemy of firearms freedom in American history? You’re damn right it is, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Madeira glanced at LaPierre’s letter of welcome to attendees of last year’s meeting and its warnings of creeping socialism and common enemies who wanted to destroy both the NRA and President Trump.
“Gun rights are not under siege,” said Madeira. “The irony is for the last ten years, we’ve had an unprecedented expansion of Second Amendment freedoms, including Indiana, but really across the country. People have gone to abandoning permits to purchase, permits to carry, and to have this language that we’re under assault really is uncivil on a whole other level. It teaches us that we cannot talk about firearms. It teaches us that we cannot talk about firearms and safety and in a world where we’re not critical consumers of the messages that are put out there and why they’re so needlessly confrontational.”
President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will address NRA members during a rally at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday.