The resounding turnout at this year's Meetings in St. Louis, April 13-15, leaves no room for doubt, as a throng of more than 64,000 from across the country established a new record attendance. Clearly, the American people trust the NRA because it embodies their values and interests.
The purpose of the Meetings is to celebrate those values and interests in a public forum like no other, an event that combines acres of firearm and shooting gear exhibits, inspirational speakers, top-flight entertainers, and a combination of free and paid (including CLE credit) educational seminars where anyone can ask the experts questions about grassroots politics, personal protection, firearm training, gun collecting, hunting and more.
The big crowd in St. Louis responded with enthusiasm that energized the entire region. From early morning to late in the evening, folks jammed the city's America's Center complex and surrounding streets. The energy level never let up throughout the weekend as attendees flocked to the giant Exhibit Hall and scurried off to events featuring NRA leaders and reflecting all the varied interests of shooters, hunters and the activists who work so hard to safeguard our freedom. If ever there was a living demonstration of just how "in step" NRA is with hard-working, patriotic Americans from all walks of life, it was on display for all to see in St. Louis.
The National NRA Foundation Banquet and Sportsman's Luncheon & Auction once again proved to be popular vehicles through which members demonstrated their deep commitment to firearms freedom, as the two events tallied more than $220,000 to help sustain the future of the shooting sports.
More than 138 auction items went on the block and were soon deemed "Sold!" at the NRA Foundation Banquet, which was co-sponsored by the Brunton and Brownells companies. One thousand passionate NRA supporters packed the America's Center for the chance to bid on memorable auction items, which included a Sandy Froman Tribute Winchester Model 94; a custom Ruger Single-Action New Vaquero revolver in .45 Long Colt; and several special South African hunts. Two exclusive Charles Daly Pistol and Rifle box sets brought in a whopping $20,000, to be earmarked for the Charles Daly Youth Endowment. Other raffle prizes included a Smith & Wesson 500, a Beretta Tikka rifle with scope, and the grand prize: a 2007 NRA Outdoors Kawasaki Brute Force 750i 4x4 ATV.
One thousand passionate NRA supporters packed the America's Center for the chance to bid on memorable auction items.
The America's Center saw this enthusiasm repeat itself the next day as the third annual Sportsmen's Luncheon & Auction, co-sponsored by DoskoSport and Hunter's Specialties, hosted a sold-out crowd of more than 500 for a Missouri riverboat-themed event. Attendees vied for high-quality auction items such as a genuine Moose Antler Eagle sculpture by Missouri native Larry Glaze; exotic hunts in Spain, Argentina and South Africa; and a Freedom Arms Model 83 Premier Grade revolver with special engravings; and a custom Ruger 10/22 rifle. All auction proceeds directly benefit the NRA Foundation to support its mission: To promote firearms and hunting safety, to enhance marksmanship skills of those participating in the shooting sports, and to educate the general public about firearms in their historic, technological and artistic content.
On Friday, April 13, NRA-ILA held its first annual dinner and auction at Grant's Farm, the Busch family estate in St. Louis, Missouri. This spectacular 281-acre public wildlife preserve is home to the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales and also contains the original home of Ulysses S. Grant between the Mexican and Civil Wars. Thanks to the generosity of Anheuser-Busch, the inaugural event was a huge success, raising nearly $300,000 to support NRA-ILA's legislative, legal, and political efforts.
The 500 attendees were treated to great food and beverages served and prepared on-site by the Budweiser chefs. The live and silent auctions featured a number of one-of-a-kind, top quality items, including: a 16-day Tanzania safari donated by Usangu Safaris; the two millionth Blackhawk Revolver donated by Sturm, Ruger; a pair of custom Schofield Revolvers donated by Smith & Wesson; a Giubileo shotgun donated by Beretta; a trophy New Zealand Red Stag hunt donated by Cardrona Safaris; a Superposed shotgun donated by Browning; a pair of custom rifles donated by Bob Nosler; a .50 caliber rifle with optics donated by Barrett Firearms; and a custom double rifle donated by Butch Searcy.
Other notable donations were made by Bad Boy Buggies; Wide Open Baja Adventures; Caywood Gunmakers; Taurus International; DPMS Panther Arms; Remington; Barnhart Ranch; Indianhead Ranch; Alta Hunts; Venture North Outfitting; Silvertip Outfitters; H-S Precision; Kississing Lake Lodge; Blaser Firearms; Dave Butz; Guy Coheleach; and Savage Arms, to name a few.
The doors to the exhibit hall had barely been open for 30 minutes on opening day and the expansive corridor of the America's Center was swarming with thousands of people eager to tread the 250,000 square feet of showroom floor. But this was no ordinary mob; it was a polite gathering of NRA members standing together for a common goal: to see and sample nearly every kind of gun and gear imaginable.
Only 24 hours into the weekend, Neil Sanders, of Thompson/Center Firearms, announced they had run out of catalogs. When more than 64,000 NRA members roll into a city for the Annual Meetings, hotels fill up, taxis bustle, and exhibit vendors run out of handouts. But vendors are delighted when this happens; it means NRA members—their core market—will digest information about shooting interests. It also means they don't have to ship leftovers back to Kentucky, if you are T/C ... or to Connecticut if you are Marlin ... or to Florida, if you are Taurus. In fact, more than 370 vendors came from all reaches of the nation to showcase their goods. Among those who perused the aisles were celebrities in their own right—Tom Selleck, Ted Nugent, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, Ollie North, UFC Champion Matt Hughes and NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre—handling guns and having a good time alongside fellow NRA members.
The members and officers got down to the business at hand at the Annual Meeting of Members held Saturday, April 14. In addition to reporting on the year's business matters to the membership, NRA's officers delivered inspiring speeches centered on preserving our firearm heritage. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre acknowledged the perils facing our firearm freedom, referring to the exhibit hall in the America's Center as an example of what the NRA works so diligently to guard. "Today, there is not one firearm owner whose freedom is secure," LaPierre warned. "There is not one firearm in that exhibit hall that is safe... . What's really in that exhibit hall is not your next gun or next hunting trip or even your next vote," he said. "What's preserved in that hall is far more precious: your life ... to live ... free."
Outgoing President Sandra Froman pledged that the NRA would continue its work defending the Right To Keep and Bear Arms.
Outgoing President Sandra Froman pledged that the NRA would continue its work defending the Right To Keep and Bear Arms. "We will do whatever it takes for as long as it takes until the victory is won," she assured. "Thomas Jefferson taught us that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The NRA's work will never be done. We must always stand ready eternally. We must always man our posts."
NRA-ILA Exec. Director Chris W. Cox updated members on ILA's top legislative battles including NRA's fight to never again allow the gun confiscations that followed Hurricane Katrina. NRA has worked diligently to pass state laws, as well as a landmark federal law, prohibiting gun confiscations during an emergency. He also referenced Missouri Governor Matt Blunt's signing of the Missouri Disaster Recovery Protection Act into law during the Opening Celebration the previous day. "So all said and done ... never again ... no matter what ... can the government kick in your door and take your guns when you need 'em the most," Cox vowed.
John Sigler, NRA 1st vice president, reinforced the importance of freedom and how dearly it is valued by those who have witnessed how easily it can be taken away. He told the story of his mother-in-law, Maria Van Allen, who came to America after watching the Nazis take over her war-ravaged homeland, Holland. He introduced her to the members noting, "Although she has never owned or fired a gun, she is now a member of the National Rifle Association because she has seen what happens." Sigler was elected NRA's 59th president during the board of directors meeting.
"The future of our freedoms could hinge on the fate of hunting," said NRA 2nd Vice President Ron Schmeits. He related a hunting story from his childhood in Iowa and then asked the members to imagine a similar scenario taking place in today's anti-gun society. Schmeits pressed the need to get as many hunters as possible back into the NRA in order that we together can protect all of our firearm freedoms.
A massive banquet hall adorned with thousands of members treated to a sit-down affair is an impressive display, and the 136th Annual Member's Banquet on Saturday evening was no exception. Members were entertained by the strident humor of comedian T. Bubba Bechtol, but not before an aura of patriotism pervaded the hall as NRA officers delivered welcoming remarks. A sobering speech from keynote speaker John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, outlined how dangerously close our gun rights came to being decided by an international body.
Bolton, a no-nonsense supporter of American liberties, fought the good fight for law-abiding gun owners at the U.N. for several years, making him a hero to NRA members, but a hated antagonist of those who would allow decisions about our Right to Keep and Bear Arms to be decided by the international gun-ban community.
He said that NRA representatives keeping close watch on international gun-ban groups actually sounded the alarm that brought outrageous gun-ban proposals to the attention of the Bush administration. Bolton added that it is critical for NRA members to understand why gun-ban proponents are targeting guns through international measures.
"The fact is that within the United States, on this issue and many others, these leftist groups could not prevail in a fair democratic contest. They find that in political environment after political environment their views are not the majority's views. So through the mechanism of what they call civil society, these nongovernmental organizations change the dimension of the problem from an issue of national policy to make it a matter of international policy, where they're going to have, in effect, a second bite at the apple they couldn't win in the American political context. They try to reargue it in the U.N. or other international organizations where they have a lot more supporters." Ultimately, said Bolton the key is America's sovereignty, which he defined as " ... the people of the United States, because, unlike any other country in the world, we are the embodiment of American sovereignty. And when our sovereignty is diminished by taking decisions out of our hands, it's our freedom and our democracy that are diminished themselves."
After the Members Banquet, and thanks to the generosity of Anheuser-Busch, NRA held its first-ever Late Night party for members, vendors, staff, and other friends of the NRA family. More than 500 NRA members were treated to a fantastic party at the Anheuser-Busch Tour Center, complete with Anheuser-Busch beverages, snacks, games, dance floors, videos, and music. Everyone had a great time at what hopefully will become an annual event!
Acknowledging the perils facing our firearm freedom, Wayne LaPierre speaks on April 14 in St. Louis - at the "Gateway to Freedom" Annual Meeting. Calling the America's Center exhibit hall an example of what the NRA works diligently to guard, Wayne adds, "What's really in that exhibit hall is not your next gun or next hunting trip or even your next vote. What's preserved in that hall is far more precious: your life ... to live ... free."
From the St. Louis America's Center stage, Chris W. Cox updated members on ILA's legislative battles - particularly, to never again allow gun confiscations like those that followed Hurricane Katrina. He referenced Governor Matt Blunt's signing of the Missouri Disaster Recovery Protection Act into law the previous day, saying "Never again, no matter what, can the government kick in your door and take your guns when you need them the most." Recorded Saturday, April 14.
The outgoing president vows the NRA will continue to diligently defend the Right To Keep and Bear Arms. "Thomas Jefferson taught us that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The NRA's work will never be done. We must always stand ready eternally. We must always man our posts," insists Sandy Froman. Recorded April 14 at the America's Center, in St. Louis, Missouri.
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A four-day celebration of freedom featuring acres of exhibits, premier events, educational seminars and workshops, and fun-filled activities.