Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Trip to the 2010 NRA Annual Meeting in Charlotte, NC

I've always wanted to attend an NRA annual meeting but either couldn't take the time or couldn't afford to go or simply was too far away or learned about the dates too late to make arrangements. Such is the life of a married soldier! This year I could go. I did. Took my dear wife with me, stopped the mail and boarded the dog (I hate doing that).  As you can see, we got to meet some people (that's Nana and me with Oliver North) and we got to see a lot of firearms products we never would have gotten to see otherwise AND we got to listen to a lot of rather famous if not down-right influential people speak.  Very interesting.

We left on Thursday evening and stayed in the Blake Hotel in Charlotte. Poor planning leads to poor performance and although we had no problems getting anywhere or walking back from the convention center I could have picked a hotel closer to all the venues. Never mind that the NRA changed some things. Never mind that insufficient information was provided. I could have looked at the venue plans and downtown maps and figured it out. I didn't.

If you are going to attend an event at the Convention Center AND you want to walk but not further than necessary, you would likely most prefer the Weston, Hilton or Hampton Inn and Omni in that order (disregarding cost). If you have an event at the Aquatics Center, the Blake, Hampton Inn and Hilton. If at the Time Warner Cable Arena, perhaps the Omni. I didn't go for the restaurant tour but if that is what floats your boat, move to the Omni or other hotels immediately adjacent to the arena. That area is teaming with all sorts of restaurants. I should point out that the NRA had plenty of shuttle service.

Now, back to the NRA event...

The Foundation dinner was Thursday night. We didn't attend. We'd gone to the local friends of NRA event and Nana was enforcing the budget (thank goodness, there's lots of ways to spend money). We also didn't attend the ILA dinner and auction on Friday night. We did attend, and this was a major draw for Nana, the Freedom Forum Friday afternoon together with 9,466 of our best friends. Speakers in attendance (and there were two who had recorded messages) included Wayne LaPierre, Chris Cox, Ronald Schmeits, Governor Bev Perdue, Governor Haley Barbour, Senator John Thune, US Rep Heath Shuler, Ken Blackwell, Senator Jim DeMint, US Rep Dan Boren, Ambassador John Bolton, Governor Sarah Palin, Michael Reagan, LTC (USMC Ret.)Oliver North, US Rep Mike Pence, Senator Richard Burr and Chuck Norris.

I would like to take a moment to comment on the notable, for me, speakers. Wayne LaPierre really fired us up. This one speech (although I heard him speak a couple of more times after that) really changed my perception of the man. I had never heard Chris Cox speak but I thought he did well. Governor Haley Barbour gave an excellent speech which took full advantage of his "accent". But there was more to come!

Ken Blackwell isn't well known being the former Secretary of State for Ohio, but he should be. He gave a good, fire and brimstone speech which like the waves on the beach rose and fell in tempo until the big wave came in. He was right on and got many a standing ovation.

So did Ambassador John Bolton (who Nana met after the forum). It was apparent that this crowd knew of and appreciated his service and points of view. And then, there was Governor Palin.

Clearly Sarah Palin was the star of the "show". People had come to hear her talk (and many left immediately after she was finished. Her speaking style isn't polished and it might not sell well to some who think that polish is the substance, but she was well received here. More and more standing ovations for her.

Michael Reagan gave the sort of fire and brimstone speech I expected. It wasn't really notable but for some excellent stories about his father. I have the feeling that he is a genuine believer.

LTC North roused the crowd with a pro-USA and pro-military presentation that had most on their feet at least 3 times.

Rep. Mike Pence is somebody I've seen on TV quite a bit. He was an excellent speaker and really wound the crowd up.

Chuck Norris talked about his Kick Start program. What he talked about wasn't as important to me as what I learned about Chuck Norris. I got the feeling that he's a genuine person and has earned all his successes. In his manner he is one of us.

Getting out of bed early Saturday morning we went right on up the street to the Convention Center for more of the exhibits. I also got my voting credentials and went to the annual meeting. I'll talk more about NRA business later but I want to say here that after almost 3 hours of speeches Nana was ready for more exhibits (and my company) and less sitting alone in the crowded hall. I left the meeting and didn't vote on any of the 10, presumably, questions that were going to be considered and voted on by the membership.

Somewhere in the exhibit hall on Friday and/or Saturday you could have met any number of the shooting sports important people. Charles Kirkland of Dixie Gun Works, Anthony Imperato of Henry Repeating Arms, Michael Bane of the Outdoor Channel, Ted Nugent, Wiley Clapp, Joel Dortch of Happy Trails Children's Foundation, Gray Thornton of the Wild Sheep Foundation, R. Lee Ermey (Gunny) of "Mail Call", and Boge and Jeff Quinn of I know there were more but I wouldn't just shove my mug in and interrupt.

After about 2:30 Nana was beat and hungry and we got some chow and took a nap (yes, I'm at that age even if it was Nana's idea) and then at 5:15 headed over to the Time Warner Cable Arena for the Freedom Experience.

Now the Freedom Experience was something else. The arena didn't fill up but there were 11,754 attendees. It was lead off by the Randolph-Macon Academy Band and Chorus. The crowd was more than receptive to the patriotic music and there were several times when the music selection had nearly the entire audience on its feet. All this before Wayne LaPierre stepped to the dais. After the NRA leaders warmed up the crowd Glenn Beck came to the microphone and his taking down of the teleprompter started a talk which I intended to time but didn't, it was too interesting. He did go over his allotted time and had to push on through repeated standing ovations. I believe from this experience that the NRA members, at least those in attendance, are fully aware that they have to become political leaders in their communities (if they aren't already). He was followed by LTC Oliver North whose speech was even better than the one he gave on Friday night! And then came Charlie Daniels. The place was WIRED! What a night!

The NRA's well-run shuttles got people out of there and back to their hotels quickly and comfortably. We had a good sleep and were out of there and headed home by 8:30 or so.

Overall, I was very impressed by the whole operation. Charlotte easily handled the crowd. The locals were, without a single exception, pleasant and helpful. From hotel housekeeping to the police to the NRA volunteers to NRA staff we didn't interact with anyone who didn't know what they were supposed to know or was in any way less than enjoyable to work with. I think that's outstanding for some 72,128 NRA members (and who knows how many family members.

Again, we both had a great time so much so that we are planning to attend the Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh April 29-May 1, 2011. We hope we'll see you there.

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