Over the weekend, an estimated 80,000 people descended on the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas for the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting – over 900 firearms and gun-related vendors, along with politicians from President Trump to Governor Greg Abbott. The event was a window into an organization that, in the wake of shootings such as Parkland and Sutherland Springs, has been under increased scrutiny.
Texas Standard reporter Alain Stephens attended the annual meeting over the weekend. He says NRA members and gun enthusiasts left the convention with a sense of support from those in power.
“Before President Trump and Vice President Pence spoke, there was a little bit of trepidation,” Stephens says. “There were a lot of NRA members who felt that the National Rifle Association and gun rights advocates were on a slippery slope. That there’s maybe too many compromises and they didn’t know what to expect. After Trump spoke, there was very much an air of confidence within the entire room that politics were on their side.”
Stephens says many NRA members see crime as a constant threat.
“Sure, they’re worried about their Second Amendment rights. They’re worried about gun control. But really, most of all they’re worried about crime,” Stephens says. “The way that they see things in the world is that this is an America that is very much under siege by criminal gangs, that is under siege with issues of police not being equipped to respond to violent crimes.”
Stephens says Vice President Mike Pence spoke about instances when armed civilians have stopped crimes, contributing to the narrative that Americans are defending themselves from what they see as a crime-ridden place.
The hundreds of protesters outside the convention center weren’t as much as a concern for the NRA members, who saw those movements as simply a generational divide. But what did come up as a concern, Stephens says, was the fact that more and more companies are ending their ties with the NRA.
“Camelbak, which historically had been there, was not on the vendor list. And Nikon pulled out, as well,” Stephens says. “This is something that definitely has gotten their attention.”
In his speech after President Trump, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre criticized companies like Austin-based YETI, which recently ended a discount program for NRA members.
Stephens says the more than 900 vendors at the convention didn’t have many innovations to display in terms of gun safety technology.
“We saw a lot of the same,” he says. “We saw a lot of AR-15 rifles with only minor differences. It seems that that’s kind of the glut of the market. And that wasn’t generating a lot of interest. There wasn’t a ton of innovation. There were a couple things there but nothing really noteworthy. Quite frankly, it was disappointing to a lot of people who were there on the floor.”
Written by César E. López-Linares.