Famous for its pivotal role in the Westward Expansion of the United States, St. Louis more recently served as the Gateway to Freedom when tens of thousands of liberty-loving Americans gathered within sight of its majestic arch April 12-15, 2012, for the 141st NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits.
With 517 exhibitors from the firearm, hunting and outdoor industries covering more than 340,000 square feet of the downtown America's Center, there was much for the 73,740 attendees to see and do. It was the largest NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits on record in terms of both exhibit space and attendance. In fact, if all of the booths on the exhibit floor were arranged in a single row, the line of guns and gear would have stretched more than 3.1 miles.
Among the highlights of the exhibit floor were several firearms, including the Ruger 22/45 Lite and the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, just introduced to consumers Friday morning, April 13. Springfield Armory Marketing Manager Chad Dyer pointed out that the NRA Annual Meetings marked the first time many excited shooters could examine the year's new guns, the company's XDS pistol being a good example.
"I watched a group of guys make a beeline to our booth as soon as the doors opened," Dyer said. "The response to that pistol has been amazing here."
Many attendees, like Tim Allen and his 10-year-old son Ben from Champaign, Ill., took advantage of having access to so many manufacturers at one place and time and researched handgun accessories. The weekend also signified a rite of passage for the younger Allen.
"This is Ben's first show," said Tim Allen as the pair examined a set of Crimson Trace Lasergrips. "We mainly came to check out laser sights. We haven't tried them before, and you can see just about all of them here."
Gun owners seeking answers to their questions about specific models often were able to speak directly to company CEOs and product engineers. Those wanting to sharpen their marksmanship skills were treated to daily seminars presented on the show floor by professional shooters Todd Jarrett, Travis Tomasie and Max Michel, among others. They could even put those skills to the test on a VirTra Systems virtual range, that was part of Beretta's exhibit display.
Attendees had the chance to meet and talk about guns with celebrities such as R. Lee Ermey in the Glock booth, Troy and Jacob Landry from the History Channel's "Swamp People" in the CCI Ammunition booth, and Ultimate Fighting Championship hall of famer Matt Hughes in the Otis Technology booth. Book signings by Glenn Beck, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ted Nugent and LtCol Oliver North also drew crowds.
Raffles were another hit, with NRA members taking chances on winning everything from Brownells gun supplies to a one-of-a-kind, 30th anniversary Barrett M107A1 rifle. But they took even greater risks while encountering the "zombies" at the DPMS booth.
Throughout the weekend attendees had the opportunity visit the Wall of Guns, sponsored by Cabela's and Leupold, to purchase raffle tickets for the chance to win firearms, with all proceeds benefitting The NRA Foundation. Firearms available included models from notable companies such as Kimber, Mossberg, Remington, Ruger, Savage Arms, Smith & Wesson, Springfield Armory, Thompson/Center and Weatherby.
An entire aisle of the multi-acre Exhibit Hall floor was devoted to gun collecting with a wide range of exhibits including "Westward … ever Westward!" the Contemporary Longrifle Association's display of original and modern longrifles illustrating the expansion of the American frontier during the early 19th century by gun makers such as Jacob and Samuel Hawken. The Minnesota Weapons Collectors presented "Engraved Guns," which highlighted, among many others, exhibition shooter Ira Paine's Smith & Wesson Model No. 3 Frontier revolver, Serial No. 1653, shipped from the factory on Feb. 17, 1887, to Paine in Rhode Island.
The American Thompson Association was the winner of the 2012 NRA Gun Collectors Committee Trophy for its fascinating display entitled "Evolution of the Submachine Gun," which featured a rare Villar Perosa, a World War I-era design with spade grips that fired the 9 mm Glisenti cartridge and was originally intended for aircraft mounting. The display featured examples from several generations of submachine guns including a STEN Mark II, an MP 38/40, a Heckler & Koch MP 5 and, of course, several Thompsons.
This year's record-setting NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits attracted citizens of all ages with varied interests in firearms and their uses, and thanks to a diverse exhibit floor, all found reasons to carry their freedoms far into the future.
Fun For All Ages
After a day spent perusing the incredible array of guns on display, nothing would do but to visit the Pyramyd Air Airgun Range for a little plinking. "This is all they want to do," chuckled Bill Christie of his charges, 10-year-old William and 9-year-old Zack.
Of course, the range isn't just for kids—plenty of adults couldn't resist stopping by to drop a dollar for five shots. Regardless of age, anyone who hit their mark with all five shots got to walk away with a keepsake ribbon.
As part of NRA's ongoing outreach to juniors, the Education & Training Division created NRA Youth Day, which takes place annually during the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits. About 90 homeschoolers and 4-H members were brought in from as far away as Joliet and Kansas City to receive personal tours of the Pyramyd Air Airgun Range and the show floor. These tours, led by NRA staff and the NRA/Brownells Youth Ambassadors, are designed to introduce youngsters to the ways the shooting sports can change their lives for the better.
The Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program booth was a huge success. Many attendees made a stop at the booth their first priority to get their hands on the safety materials for kids before supplies ran out. Staff gave away over 4,000 workbooks to parents, grandparents and kids.
On Friday, April 13, thousands gathered in the Edward Jones Dome to hear from a full slate of renowned speakers during the NRA Celebration of American Values Leadership Forum presented by MidwayUSA, which is a member favorite event and a crucial campaign stop for presidential contenders. This year's forum featured speeches by then-presumptive nominee and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox warmed up the crowd, drawing a standing ovation, by insisting, "We need to fire the president!" Invoking the NRA 2012 election slogan, "Your NRA is 'ALL IN' this year!" he also challenged the mainstream press corps in attendance to "quit mocking the Second Amendment" when its members so strongly "support the First."
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre concurred, saying, "The national media wants to ignore us or denigrate us." Further establishing the conviction that rights do not stem from the government, he said, "Liberty is bestowed by our Creator," then added that in the upcoming election season, "We are, by God, 'ALL IN'!'' to thunderous applause. LaPierre introduced Gov. Romney and his wife, Ann. An NRA Life member, Gov. Romney championed the U.S. Constitution and promised that, if elected president, he would shrink government and expand the economy. Romney commended the NRA for calling for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder who continued to be defiant before Congress' demand for answers in the so-called "Fast and Furious" scandal. "I will protect the Second Amendment rights of the American people," Romney declared, adding, "Let's take back our nation and defend our freedoms!"
Speaker Gingrich, echoing Cox's sentiment about the president, glibly suggested, "Let me speak two positive words to the Obama administration—Good-bye," causing the crowd to break out into enthusiastic applause. Sen. Santorum reminded the audience that the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court was a major reason why the upcoming election is so important. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton spoke to the U.N.'s continued initiatives to restrict the ownership of small arms. Other notable national, state and local figures, including Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Congressmen Eric Cantor and Darrell Issa, rallied the members, steeling their resolve to make a sea change in the country's leadership in the upcoming election.
The blockbuster entertainment peaked on Saturday, April 14, as a large, festive crowd jammed the Edward Jones Dome for the Celebration of American Values Freedom Experience presented by MidwayUSA.
After the Randolph-Macon Junior Air Force Academy Band and Chorus warmed the arena with a medley of patriotic songs, LaPierre welcomed members and honored guests. Then he turned the stage over to a pair of outspoken American originals who gave performances tailored exclusively for the NRA audience.
Red-hot comedian Larry the Cable Guy took the stage and his "blue-collar" humor had everyone rolling in the aisles for the entire set. "I'm an NRA Life member," Larry declared proudly. "Keep doing what you're doing and we're going to take back the White House in November!"
Next up was keynote speaker Glenn Beck. "It probably kills the New York Times," noted LaPierre, "that Glenn has written eight bestsellers. He's a conservative force of nature and our good friend."
Beck delivered a high-energy mix of commentary, history lessons and biting satire of politicians threatening America's freedoms. He focused his address on the leadership example of founding father George Washington and recalled that at a critical time the first president had called for a national day of fasting and prayer. "It is up to every NRA member and every American to get everyone registered to vote," Beck said. "If we do what we're supposed to do, we win in the end. Let's restore the honor, the integrity and the exceptionalism of America."
Bidding Wars: Fundraising For A Cause
Glasses clinked, auctioneers bellowed and money flowed at the National NRA Foundation Banquet & Auction held at the Edward Jones Dome on Thursday, April 12. Members bid silently and lively on guns, gear, art, outfitted hunts and more. The national auction, sponsored by Cabela's and Leupold, is the premier event among 1,000 similar Friends of NRA fundraisers held nationwide every year. It raised more than $280,000 for NRA programs such as the Youth Hunter Education Challenge and the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, and for grants to benefit conservation, Boy Scout programs and more.
Bidding was also frenetic on Friday, April 13, at the sold-out Sixth Annual NRA-ILA Dinner and Auction held at scenic Grant's Farm. All the auction items were provided by generous individuals and industry partners—in particular Leading Sponsor Sturm, Ruger & Co.—with all the proceeds supporting NRA-ILA's legislative, legal and political efforts. Some of the firearm highlights included a Beretta SO10 sidelock over-under, a two-barrel Kreighoff Semprio rifle, a JP Enterprises JP SCR-11 AMU (U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit) Commemorative Custom Rifle complete with Brownells 3-Gun Shooter's Package and a weekend at Castle Rock Shooting Center. The bidding was high for the Colt's-donated 7 ½"-barreled Custom Shop Single Action Army built on a screwless frame with an extended length grip frame complete with carved and scrimshawed stocks. Craig Tennant's original oil painting "Down Stream" led the artwork, and some of the hunts on the block included Anatolian ibex, king eider in Alaska, mule deer, elk, pheasant, New Zealand red stag and a 10-day African safari.
NRA Women's Leadership Forum Co-Chairs Suzie Brewster and Susan LaPierre welcomed more than 300 women to the Sixth Annual NRA Women's Leadership Forum Luncheon and Auction on Friday, April 13, at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Louis. Guests had the opportunity to bid on live and silent auction items, that included many donated firearms, trips, shooting gear and jewelry. One of the most popular live auction items, a special edition Connecticut Shotgun RBL, raised $28,000. During the luncheon, special guests Callista Gingrich and Ann Romney were interviewed by Susan LaPierre. Both ladies provided an interesting and entertaining perspective on life on the campaign trail. The luncheon and auction raised more than $475,000, smashing previous fundraising records for this event.
Ruger President and CEO Michael O. Fifer was recognized as the 2012 Distinguished Corporate Leader at the Sixth Annual Corporate Executives Luncheon, held Friday, April 13. This annual award is given for outstanding corporate leadership. Past honorees include Dick Heckert, J.D. Williams, Joe Gregory, Eric Johanson, Dr. Ugo Beretta, and Larry and Brenda Potterfield.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, "We are grateful to Ruger and Mike Fifer for their unwavering support, and more importantly for providing the industry with a model of corporate leadership. Now more than ever the Second Amendment needs the industry to follow Ruger's lead and do everything possible to protect our freedom."
In May 2011, Ruger launched the challenge to sell 1 million Ruger firearms in a year, with one dollar of each sale going to benefit the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. The Million Gun Challenge quickly became the 1.2 Million Gun Challenge when Ruger customers purchased even more firearms than was originally anticipated. Fifer stated, "With the generous support of our customers, we blew past our goal and were able to donate $1,253,700 to the NRA. We hope our example of giving back to an organization that does so much to protect our freedom will inspire others to do the same, no matter what their means."
NRA Publications presented its coveted Golden Bullseye Awards for the hunting and shooting industry's best new products on Friday, April 13. The Golden Bullseye Award has become a symbol of excellence, innovation and quality in firearms, accessories and related equipment. The room was comprised of a who's who of gun, ammunition and gear company executives. Robert Morrison, president emeritus of Taurus International, accepted the ceremony's top award, the Golden Bullseye Pioneer Award.
On Friday, April 13, Glock Vice President Gary Fletcher, along with company spokesman R. Lee Ermey, presented checks to the NRA totaling $115,000—$50,000 to the NRA, $50,000 to the NRA Whittington Center and $15,000 to the NRA Whittington Center Adventure Camp. The company also donated 30 handguns to the NRA Law Enforcement Division. "There are millions of NRA members and thousands of certified NRA firearms instructors who continue to protect our Second Amendment right and help to promote firearms safety," said Fletcher. "It's important for us at Glock, Inc. to recognize that commitment by supporting the NRA and its affiliate organizations."
Seminars Run The Gamut
On Friday, April 13, about 160 pro-gun patriots attended the NRA-ILA Grassroots Workshop titled "Grassroots Campaigning in a National Election Year" to learn what they can start doing immediately to ensure a victory for gun owners in November!
NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox and NRA Second Vice President Allan Cors paid tribute to the attendees, giving credit for NRA's successes to its members and grassroots activists. Each stressed the need for attendees to work to rally America's 100 million gun owners to the polls on Election Day.
NRA is the world's most active force in protecting and promoting the rights of hunters. To inform its membership of NRA's efforts on behalf of hunters, a panel of hunting policy experts assembled on Saturday, April 14, for the seminar What NRA Does For Hunters. The event was emceed by Managing Editor of NRA Hunting Communications J.R. Robbins. To learn more about what NRA does for hunters, go to www.nrahuntersrights.org. Gun rights attorneys and scholars from across the country attended the annual National Firearms Law Seminar, moderated by NRA Board member M. Carol Bambery. Topics included: building on the foundation of Heller and McDonald, firearm forfeitures and defending outdoor shooting ranges.
Attendees wanting to improve their personal-protection techniques gained a wealth of knowledge during the Methods of Concealed Carry seminar sponsored by Cabela's. Tom Marx, a retired Chicago Police Department officer and former Smith & Wesson Academy instructor, led a discussion Friday and Saturday on concealed-carry myths propagated by Hollywood, contrasting them with carry methods that really work. Dave Young, former U.S. Marine Corps Special Reaction Team member and founder of ARMA Training, focused Sunday's seminar on selecting the correct holster for concealed carry.
Refuse To Be A Victim seminars were held on Friday and Saturday and an instructor development course followed on Sunday, April 15. Refuse To Be A Victim, created in 1993 to help teach women to take responsibility for their safety, has since expanded to embrace anyone who wants to learn effective strategies to keep themselves, their loved ones and their property safe.
The three-day NRA Women's Pistol Instructor Training Course was back for its second year, thanks to popular demand. The practical portion of the course was conducted at the Ultimate Defense Firing Range and Training Center. The 15 women who completed the course now join the esteemed ranks of NRA Certified Instructors.
Conducting NRA's Business
On Saturday morning, April 14, thousands of enthusiastic members poured into the Edward Jones Dome to participate in the Annual Meeting of Members, which commenced with a heartfelt prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. This year NRA was honored to have Keni Thomas, a combat veteran of the elite 75th Ranger Regiment Special Operations unit and popular country music singer, perform the National Anthem.
Before getting down to business, LaPierre identified and welcomed the oldest and youngest Life members in attendance: Wayne Burd, 95, of Lavaca, Ark., was the oldest Life member honored, and Alexandra Grace Miller of Owensville, Ind., and Remington Xavier Klukowski of Herndon, Va., shared the title of youngest Life member. NRA officers addressed the importance of the upcoming election and the NRA's role in preserving our freedom."If not for America, there would be no freedom in the world," LaPierre noted. "If not for the Second Amendment, there would be no freedom in America. And if it were not for the NRA, there would be no Second Amendment!"
Cox added that the stakes for this year's election "couldn't be higher." Addressing President Obama's dismissive attitude toward gun owners, Cox said, "Mr. President, we'll keep our money and our guns, you keep the change."
On Sunday, April 15, the NRA Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by Trijicon, featured music by Grammy Award-winning country artist Bryan White and a testimony by hunting television show host and champion elk caller Chad Schearer. Keynote speaker Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, U.S. Army (Ret.), now an ordained minister, formerly headed the Army's elite Delta Force and commanded all of U.S. Special Forces before working for the Central Intelligence Agency. Recounting his command of the 1993 battle in Somalia infamously known as "Blackhawk Down," Boykin told the audience of more than 1,000, "We need to ask ourselves what price are we willing to pay?" He reminded the audience that in our nation's earliest history, it was pastors who organized militia troops to secure American sovereignty. "The 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were all men of faith," he said.
Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco, USA (Ret.) of the Military Warriors Support Foundation, along with Ron Coburn of Savage Arms and Mike Fifer of Sturm, Ruger & Co., presented keys to new homes to combat-wounded veterans Joseph Lee, Alexander Hernandez and Dustin Foracker and their families that were donated through the program Homes4WoundedHeroes.
Play Some Country Music
Country music fans rolled out en masse for NRA Country Jam II, presented by Bushnell. Country music superstar Trace Adkins and talented opening act Tyler Farr played to a sold out crowd in an intimate, theatre setting. During Adkins' hearty performance, Air Force F-16 pilot and combat veteran Major Dan Rooney of the Folds of Honor Foundation presented Adkins with an authentic airman's leather bomber jacket in appreciation for his tireless support of America's servicemen and women. Adkins and Farr are avid outdoorsmen and NRA members, and were a perfect fit for this outdoor-oriented, pro-freedom event.
If you missed the fun-filled meetings in St. Louis, make plans now to attend the 2013 NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Houston, Texas, May 2-5. It will be a blast!
For more information, go to www.nraam.org.