INDIANAPOLIS — If you’ve driven through downtown Indianapolis this week you’ve likely already seen the signage going up. The National Rifle Association is in town for their national convention, and the city has prepared for the massive influx in visitors in a big way.
Visit Indy says this convention will prove to be the fourth largest of the year with an estimated minimum of 70,000 packing the city, creating a virtual sell-out for all area hotels from Friday through Sunday.
Most of those guests are presumably NRA members themselves, since membership is required to enter the convention hall. Given the influx of firearms in town, Visit Indy, along with IMPD, have planned an influx of their own in terms of security in preparation for the event. The NRA has brought in their own security and has partnered with local law enforcement and the Indiana Convention Center security detail itself to ramp up their presence throughout the city.
Guests are allowed to carry their firearms inside the convention center every day, save for Friday, when President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Governor Eric Holcomb are set to speak. Visit Indy Executive Vice President Chris Gahl says each gun in the expo hall will be checked before entry – another measure to help ensure safety for everyone involved.
“We know that safety and security is paramount for any large city-wide convention or event we put into place, so we’ll have IMPD presence,” Gahl said. “We’ll have additional police in our streets and around downtown because no matter the event, no matter the event organizer, any time you gather thousands of people it has to be done safely and in an organized fashion.”
This year marks the third time the city of Indianapolis has played host to the NRA National Convention. First in 2014 and again in 2019. Despite the events seemingly polarizing nature to some, no issues concerning safety have ever been reported during past events in the Circle City.
“We know that hosting the NRA can be polarizing. We know that because we experienced that in 2014 and again in 2019, and to that end there’s a peaceful protest zone that’s adjacent to the Indiana Convention Center,” Gahl said. “So those who have an opposing view can come and express that in a peaceful way.”
And those in peaceful protest are not factored in to the 70,000-guest estimation. Visit Indy expects those visitors to generate $36 million in economic impact despite no sales of firearms occurring in the convention itself – which acts similarly to a trade show.
“It’s not a gun sale. Nothing is transacted on the floor of the Indiana Convention Center. It is a place for those NRA members to come and look at gear and leave with pamphlets if you will, leave with information to make decisions down the road,” Gahl said. “We have 11 exhibit halls within the Indiana Convention Center. They’re using nearly every single square inch.”
In 2019 when President Trump last spoke at the NRA National Convention in Indianapolis, event organizers utilized Lucas Oil Stadium to accommodate those wishing to attend the dignitary’s speech. This year political speeches will be confined to the convention center itself, in Exhibit Hall A.
Another NRA convention is currently not on the books looking ahead, though Visit Indy brass intends on speaking with NRA leadership to potentially work something out down the road. The convention, according to Gahl, books anywhere from five to even ten years in advance.
“We’ve known about this event coming up since 2014 and we’ve got a playbook on what our best practices, not only for safely convening individuals, but also giving a peaceful protest zone for those who want to express their freedom of speech and so we feel ready and we know it’s a polarizing group,” Gahl said. “When we say Indy welcomes all. We need to mean that.”