Just as NRA brings out legions of voters who make freedom ring at the polls, unprecedented crowds flock to the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits. On the heels of last year's record turnout, nearly 60,000 NRA members, their families and friends converged on the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, April 15-17, for a proud exercise of that freedom. Their reward included the largest exhibit hall to date with 430 exhibitors displaying five acres of guns, gear and outfitters; first hand messages from NRA leaders and key pro-gun allies; gala events with headline entertainers; educational seminars; and more.
Let's Get This Party Started
A warm Texas welcome greeted NRA members from across the nation, including personal messages from leaders of a state noted for its pro-gun culture. First up during the 134th Members Banquet was U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who vowed that Congress would pass pro-gun initiatives this year, including a bill to stop frivolous lawsuits against firearm manufacturers and the restoration of the rights of Washington, D.C., residents to own guns.
Her words were echoed by U.S. House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay, who was introduced by Wayne LaPierre as "... a true friend and tireless advocate for the Second Amendment." Delay's unyielding support for gun owners has made him a lightning rod for the Left, and in heartfelt opening remarks he said, "Being keynote speaker to NRA here in my hometown is a true honor and humbling. It's just incredible to be in front of NRA, the protectors of freedom." Mr. DeLay was answered by a thunderous ovation, for which he expressed gratitude.
Citing the "Armed Citizen" column in NRA magazines, DeLay said, "These stories ... show the importance of preserving our Second Amendment. These citizens prevented what might have been horrible crimes because they had the right to protect themselves and their families.
"Our Founding Fathers didn't consider the right to keep and bear arms a benefit of living in a free country—they believed this right was necessary if a free country was to long endure. Liberty could not be secure, they believed, if the people did not have the right to defend themselves," said Delay.
As is now a Members Banquet tradition, top-flight entertainers took to the stage and kept the party going late into the night. T. Bubba Bechtol, NRA's "favorite comedian," returned for a third Banquet appearance and warmed up the crowd for headliner Hank Williams Jr. The incredible talent and showmanship of Williams and his band stirred everyone, and as much as the crowd roared approval for his music, the show's biggest hit came when Hank announced he was donating his famous father's Colt single-actions to the National Firearms Museum.
Friends Of NRA Extravaganza
"Our Founding Fathers didn't consider the right to keep and bear arms a benefit of living in a free country—they believed this right was necessary if a free country was to long endure. Liberty could not be secure, they believed, if the people did not have the right to defend themselves." —Tom Delay
"Going twice ... sold!" barked the auctioneer as he pointed to the winner of a one-of-a-kind shadowbox displaying memorabilia from one of NRA's most recognizable Board members, longtime Texas Ranger and recent author H. Joaquin Jackson. It was one of 150 items auctioned during the sold-out Friends of NRA event at the Annual Meetings.
The auction proved to be the mother of all Friends events due to the attendance, generosity and celebratory attitudes of the 1,000-plus NRA members and staff who attended.
For those who have not attended one of the several hundred local Friends of NRA events held across the country each year, it's a dinner followed by a raffle and auction of guns, hunts, art and outdoor-related gear. Proceeds go to The NRA Foundation. For information on upcoming Friends of NRA events in your region, see the Regional Report section in your official NRA journal.
Celebrating NRA's Victories
The theme for the 2005 NRA Annual Meetings, "Restoring The Second Amendment," was unveiled at the Opening Celebration, where NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre set the tone by detailing the accomplishments of the NRA and its members over the past 25 years. "[Y]ou can buy or shoot or restore or collect the guns of your choice and be left alone while you do it!" he declared. "Because you restored the Second Amendment, this freedom can be passed on to your children ... . This most precious of birthrights can be conferred upon every infant whose first breath is drawn beneath our American skies."
NRA First Vice President Sandra S. Froman then introduced "the man who won't apologize for killing his own dinner—our very own Ted Nugent!"
After thanking his fellow "brothers in arms," rocker and activist Nugent regaled the audience with a rousing rendition of the national anthem on his red, white and blue guitar. Switching the focus from rock to country, John Sigler, NRA Second Vice President, introduced Charlie Daniels, the master of ceremonies for the afternoon's tribute.
Daniels presented a tribute to past and present legislators and NRA leaders who were instrumental in a 25-year battle to restore the Second Amendment through significant reform of federal and state gun laws. Those honored included the late Harlon B. Carter, the first Executive Director of the Institute for Legislative Action (represented by his widow, Maryann Carter), former NRA Presidents James Reinke, Howard Pollock, Dick Riley, Bob Corbin, Marion Hammer, the late Joe Foss (represented by his widow, DiDi), and outgoing President Kayne Robinson. Former President Charlton Heston was not present, but was commended for his service and remembered with thunderous applause. The Honorable Harold Volkmer, co-author of the Firearms Owners' Protection Act, was recognized, along with Sens. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Zell Miller (D-Ga.). Representatives John Dingell (D-Mich.), Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and Don Young (R-Alaska), NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre, and former ILA chief James Jay Baker were also honored.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was then welcomed to the stage by NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox. Perry thanked the membership for the work NRA does to protect our right to keep and bear arms and lamented that he doesn't get to exercise that right often, especially when the legislature is in session.
"Right now there are some south Texas turkeys that think they've got a pardon from the governor, but that will change soon enough," pronounced Perry to appreciative laughter. Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla then addressed the members, saying that the NRA must remain strong and relentless, as the battles will never end.
"I will fight every day to defend our Second Amendment rights, the Constitution, and this great way of life ... ." Bonilla said. The Charlie Daniels Band wrapped up the afternoon by entertaining the enthusiastic crowd with a medley of their hit songs.
Members had numerous informative special sessions to choose from this year, including: Should You Hunt Africa; NRA and The Media (above); Methods of Concealed Carry; Women, Personal Protection and Power Politics; Ted Nugent's God, Guns and Rock and Roll; Gun Collectors session with R. Lee Ermey (r.); Hunt Texas and U.S. Military Arms of World War II (below). The special sessions topics vary from year to year, but they always feature interesting expert speakers and are well-attended.
Ladies And Gentlemen: Start Your Bidding
Two new events premiered at the Houston meetings—the NRA Sportsmen's Luncheon and Auction (sponsored by Brunton) and the NRA Ladies Luncheon & Auction (sponsored by Brownells), yielding excitement on both floors as authentic Texas auctioneers with their "Western rap" elicited top dollar for the dozens of sporting items and hunts donated for the auction block.
Two-hundred-fifty sportsmen were present as the "Second Amendment Chopper," built and donated by Big Daddy Choppers, was announced "Sold!" to Michael Sucher of Century Int'l Arms Inc., of Boca Raton, Fla., for $70,000. The bid goes down as the highest for any one item at any national NRA auction. "This chopper is a symbol of a commitment that Century and the National Rifle Association have in protecting and defending the Second Amendment ... . A huge debt is owed to NRA by millions of proud Americans," said Sucher, who also submitted a winning $4,000 bid for a 10-day African safari donated by Africa Sport Safari.
More than 120 NRA women at the Ladies' Auction proved their purse strings were also loose when it came time to bid on various guns, grips, jewelry, wine and accessories, but it was Coral Bergman of Warner Springs, Calif., who was told she could pack her bags for the Dark Continent after raising her hand with the high-auction bid of $5,000 for a 10-day safari donated by Africa Sport Safari. Proceeds from both auctions go directly to The NRA Foundation, to be dispensed in the form of grants to eligible educational programs.
And The Golden Bullseye Goes To ...
The NRA Publications Division honored the shooting industry's most innovative and interesting new guns and accessories of 2004 with its third annual presentation of the Golden Bullseye Awards, one of the industry's most prestigious product awards.
"The Golden Bullseye Awards are our way of saluting the ingenuity of today's entrepreneurs who are maintaining the vitality of one of our nation's oldest industries," said Joe H. Graham, Executive Director of NRA Publications.
Getting Down To Business
After an enthusiastic crowd of NRA members took their seats for the 134th Annual Meeting of Members, they were treated to an inspiring video about the struggle of NRA leaders and allies, including Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan and Marion Hammer, to restore the Second Amendment liberties severed by The Gun Control Act of 1968. The film complemented the personal tribute given to these leaders during the opening ceremony the previous day.
Nearly 60,000 NRA members enjoyed the camaraderie of the meetings in Houston, Texas.
"We lost some battles, but ... sometimes defeat is a necessary prelude to victory. The key is to never give up. And you never gave up!" said NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre after the film. "It took 25 years, but you restored the Second Amendment." NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox stressed the need to erase Bill Clinton's anti-gun legacy and continue to defeat "Clinton-clone" candidates. "Now, if laws could talk ... Bill Clinton's 1994 gun ban would sue for libel ... . To claim that those guns are crime guns is a bigger load of bull than you'll find at the Houston stockyards," Cox quipped to the crowd's delight.
While LaPierre and Cox focused on the legislative and executive branches of government, new NRA President Sandra Froman warned against allowing activist federal judges to reach the bench. "... [I]t's clear that a single federal judge could have more power than all 535 members of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the president combined," she cautioned.
Bringing Houston To Your Living Room
NRA members unable to make the trip to Houston had the opportunity to experience the 2005 Annual Meetings through the popular radio/Internet news program "Cam and Company" on NRANews.com and Sirius Radio. A variety of special events were covered, including the Opening Celebration, and host Cam Edwards interviewed such gun-rights champions as NRA President Sandra Froman, former Georgia Sen. and NRA Board member Zell Miller, television personality R. Lee Ermey, Idaho Sen. and NRA Board member Larry Craig, former NRA President Marion Hammer, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox, Oliver North, NRA First Vice President John Sigler and Reps. Gene Green (D-TX) and Harold Volkmer (D-MO). Just in case you missed the exceptional coverage, a selection of interviews and footage of events is available for online viewing at NRANews.com.
Calling Out To God In The Desert
The annual Sportsmen's Prayer Breakfast inspired a crowd of hundreds with music, dramatic readings and a keynote address by Thomas Hamill, the American truck convoy commander kidnapped in Iraq and miraculously delivered from his captors' grasp back to U.S. forces.
The soft-spoken Hamill relayed a tale of terror that began when his convoy was attacked outside Baghdad. As the vehicles moved through a "kill zone," an Iraqi armed with an AK-47 jumped onto his truck and began firing, seriously wounding Hamill in the arm. After killing five of Hamill's associates, the insurgents forced him into a car. Hamill's Iraqi captors confined him to a small building in the blistering desert heat. During a 24-day imprisonment he cried out to God to take away his pain.
Toward the end, Hamill said he heard the sounds of "angels outside his cell," U.S. soldiers moving in a convoy only a short distance away. "I put all my faith and all my trust in God," he said, as he slipped away toward his rescuers.
Airgun Range Attracts Nearly 1,500
The airgun range's strategic location in the main exhibit hall attracted the attention of a lot of shooters. Fewer shooting lanes than usual, and airgun velocities limited to 550 f.p.s. did little to thwart enthusiasm, as a total of 1,498 five-shot tickets were sold.
Youngsters and many adults who were interested in getting into airgun shooting or who had never shot before took advantage of the range, according to John Venskoske, NRA assistant manager of the Airgun Program. Participants chose from a wide variety of air rifles and pistols on loan from Daisy and Crosman, and put five rounds downrange for every dollar they spent.
Next door, new or renewing NRA junior members could have their pictures taken and instantly placed on a souvenir front cover of NRA InSights magazine.
New Officers And Board Members Elected
For only the second time in its 134-year history, a woman was elected as NRA President. Sandra S. Froman, of Tucson, Ariz., is a graduate of Harvard Law School, and has practiced law for 30 years. NRA's First Vice President, John C. Sigler, is a retired City of Dover, Del., Police Dept. captain and now practices law in Delaware and Maryland as corporate in-house counsel. NRA's Second Vice President, Ronald L. Schmeits of Raton, N.M., is a member of the Board of Trustees and executive committee of the NRA Whittington Center and is a bank president and financier. The NRA Board of Directors also welcomed several new members to its ranks, including renowned actor and NRA supporter Tom Selleck. His career includes starring in or producing more than 30 films and television programs. Zell Miller, former governor and senator from the state of Georgia, is this year's recipient of the Harlon B. Carter Award. James Gilmore, III, served as the governor of Virginia from 1998-2002. Det. Lt. Dennis Willing of Michigan is a Vietnam veteran and highly successful competitive shooter. Joel Friedman has been a tireless defender of the Second Amendment in California. And finally, Don Turner of Nevada is well respected for his efforts to ensure that sportsmen and shooters have access to proper shooting facilities and have the right to exercise their Second Amendment freedom.
Watch Videos From 2005 Houston Annual Meetings
Wayne LaPierre: 2005 NRA Members' Meeting
Before Wayne LaPierre addressed the 134th Annual Meeting, an inspiring video was shown, detailing NRA leaders and allies struggles to restore Second Amendment liberties severed by The Gun Control Act of 1968. As one man who was there through it all, Wayne speaks of historic accomplishment, "We lost some battles, but sometimes defeat is a necessary prelude to victory. The key is to never give up. And you never gave up." Recorded at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, April 16.
Kayne Robinson: 2005 NRA Members' Meeting
Referring to the gathering as "freedom's annual family reunion," Kayne Robinson speaks at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, April 16. Among his many remarks, Robinson delivered sobering news for America's hunters, "Today we have half as many hunters per capita than in 1985. That isn't just a frightening trend, it's a death spiral. Not just for hunting, but for anyone who cares about our Second Amendment freedom." But Robinson outlines a strategy of assistance, with the "Free Hunter's" campaign.
See You In Louisville!
If you live outside the Louisville area and are planning to attend the show, make sure you book early as rooms fill up fast! We're happy to be able to offer our members special low hotel rates, easy reservation booking and superior customer service. You can also save time when you arrive by pre-registering and having your badges shipped directly to you for free.
The Kentucky Exposition Center is easily accessible from any direction.
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