NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre has to be one of a select few in history who have hosted a dinner for more than 6,000 of his "closest friends." But that's exactly what happened at the Celebration of American Values Banquet in Phoenix, Arizona—the largest sit-down meal ever held in the state.
The banquet is the NRA's annual formal event, rife with pageantry and powerful moments. It is a time when NRA officers, members and honored guests come together to be inspired and energized.
After an Arizona National Guard fife-and-drum corps presented the colors, and Iwo Jima veteran Sgt. Wesley Plummer Jr., USMC, led the Pledge of Allegiance, LaPierre saluted NRA benefactors and NRA Golden Ring of Freedom members Larry and Brenda Potterfield of MidwayUSA, the banquet's official sponsor.
LaPierre introduced the evening's first speaker, John Stossel of ABC News, as "... an investigative journalist, columnist and author who has slaughtered some of the national media's sacred-cow ideas. Whether it's ... government bailouts or gun control, he's not afraid to bite the hand that feeds him by exposing the media's misrepresentations and myths."
Stossel respectfully addressed the audience, declaring, "It would be presumptuous for me to talk to you about guns since you know more about them than I do." He did acknowledge NRA members for their great understanding of the Second Amendment and the liberty it protects.
"From your understanding of the Second Amendment," Stossel said, "you have a better understanding than most Americans about the genius of the Founders' belief in limited government; in a government that keeps us safe and then butts out and leaves us alone."
The keynote speaker was a man well-known within the NRA, Lt. Col. Oliver North, USMC (Ret.). LaPierre introduced him as "... a constant fighter for freedom," who today is a popular radio and Fox News commentator, as well as a member of the NRA Board of Directors. He's a hero to millions, yet North told the gathering about recent journeys to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan where, "I keep company with heroes," the soldiers and Marines who are fighting today to keep America free.
"It is the most alarming document I have ever read," said North. "This is not the truth! Those of us who believe in the Second Amendment are not a threat to American freedom and never have been."North conveyed great appreciation for the profound patriotism and sacrifice of those serving throughout the world, and condemned the Department of Homeland Security report that cynically attempted to link returning veterans and gun owners with future domestic terrorists.
And, upon receiving the traditional Brooks-Hamell custom flintlock as a token of the NRA's appreciation, North drew a roaring response when he proudly raised the rifle overhead and borrowed a line from Charlton Heston, "... from my cold, dead hand, Mr. Obama."
The morning after the banquet, members gathered in fellowship for Sunday's prayer breakfast. The keynote speaker was Dr. Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors.
In addition to MidwayUSA's and Cabela's generous sponsorship of events held during the Celebration of American Values weekend, special recognition goes out to two sponsors who helped underwrite the cost of the entire weekend—LifeLock (Gold Sponsor) and the Civil War Preservation Trust (Silver Sponsor).
The 2009 NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits got off to an exciting start on Friday, May 15, 2009, as more than 7,000 NRA members crowded into the U.S. Airways Center for the Celebration of American Values Leadership Forum, officially sponsored by MidwayUSA. A roster of well-known speakers celebrated the unique and precious rights enjoyed by Americans, including the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
Speakers at the forum included: Sen. Max Baucus, R-Mont.; Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour; former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton; former Ohio Secretary of State and NRA Board member Ken Blackwell; Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla.; Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer; D.C. v. Heller plaintiff Dick Heller; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; news commentator Dick Morris; talk show host Michael Reagan; Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Sen. John McCain acknowledged the NRA's recent legislative successes and the heralded U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.
Sen. McCain thanked the NRA for its endorsement of his candidacy for president and for choosing Phoenix as the site of its 2009 convention. He acknowledged the NRA's recent legislative successes and the heralded U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. McCain warned that defenders of the Second Amendment must remain vigilant against foreign and domestic threats. He noted the recent call to reinstate the "assault weapons" ban under the guise of resolving the problem of guns used illegally by drug cartels in Mexico. "We can and should do more to crack down on the illegal transfer to Mexico of weapons acquired in the United States, which is a violation of both U.S. and Mexican law. But that doesn't require us to restrict the rights of law‑abiding American gun owners," he noted to thunderous applause.
Bolton spoke of patriotism, American exceptionalism and the Second Amendment. Bolton stated, "You can search foreign constitutions far and wide and you will not find any provision even vaguely comparable to the Second Amendment." In closing, referring to President Obama's apparent disdain for American exceptionalism, Bolton suggested NRA members should tell him, "Mr. President, tell the United Nations to keep its hands off our Constitution and its hands off our guns!"
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, spoke about the importance of the rights of the individual citizen over that of the government.
"The supreme voice in this land is not the government—it is the people," Romney said. "When the [Constitution's]framers met in Philadelphia, their mission was to limit the power of government and protect the rights of the individual ... ".
After the forum, members were treated to an outdoor concert with comedy provided by T. Bubba Bechtol and music by country acts The Drew Davis Band and Kate and Kacey Coppela at the Arizona Center.
Several auctions offering a host of unique firearms, accessories and hunting excursions were held in conjunction with the meetings, providing fine food and fellowship in entertaining settings.
On Thursday night, the National NRA Foundation Banquet attracted a crowd of 1,050. Sponsored by MidwayUSA and LifeLock, the event had a western theme, complete with bales of hay, wagon wheels and cowboy hats. Over 125 items were featured in the silent auction and the bidding was fast and furious for 30 additional items in the live-auction—many of them one-of-a-kind.
During the event, MidwayUSA's Larry Potterfield pledged $1 million to a special endowment to support NRA Competitive Shooting and national championship events for years to come.
On Friday morning, a sold-out crowd of 600 filled the MidwayUSA-sponsored NRA Sportsmen's Auction. More than 150 silent-auction items were available, including several 10-day hunts in Africa, a Florida alligator hunt and a Louisiana hog hunt. Those who prefer to stay close to home still found plenty to bid on, including custom firearms from Weatherby and Marlin, artwork and much more. Both events netted $210,000 for the critical work of The NRA Foundation, with event sponsors bringing in an additional $31,000.
Friday night's event, "Investing in Our Firearms Freedom," was a fitting theme for the third annual NRA-ILA dinner and auction as many guns on the selling block could only be described as investment-grade, including a custom pair of Charlton Heston Colt Single Action Army revolvers engraved and finished by Doug Turnbull. It was one of only 15 sets ever assembled.
Also up for bid were two superb double rifles chambered in .470 Nitro Express; a Kreighoff International Classic Big Five, featuring a stalking lion custom-engraved in gold on the receiver; and a B. Searcy and Co. Classic built on a color-casehardened frame with high-grade English walnut stock.
A record crowd vied for auctioneer Dennis Cathcart's attention. In all, the live and silent auctions included more than 120 firearms, optics, knives, accessories, hunts, original art pieces and destination vacations.
The festive event was held at Corona Ranch and sponsored by MidwayUSA. By night's end, NRA-ILA netted more than $400,000 to protect our Second Amendment freedoms and hunting heritage.
The exhibit hall was, in a word, packed. When the doors opened at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, May 15, attendees overwhelmed the convention hall entrance system. Once inside, members from 48 states were treated to 275,000 square feet of room to roam and 470 exhibitors showing off their wares.
Everything a gun owner, shooter or hunter could want to see was there—the row of gun collectors competing for first prize, booths from firearm, ammunition, optic and gear manufacturers, and even outfitters and ATV manufacturers. By Sunday, more than 64,000 members had toured acres of entertainment.
NRA members who wanted to take a moment to rest their tired feet after cruising the exhibit hall floor had a wide array of special seminars (sponsored by Cabela's) and workshops from which to choose, covering everything from how to carry concealed to how to load your own ammo. Annual favorites such as the Refuse To Be A Victim, Clubs & Associations and Grassroots workshops, and the seminars How To Carry Concealed and Craig Boddington's African Experience (sponsored by the T. Jeffrey Safari Company) were filled to capacity. A few newcomers rounded out the list, including Elk Hunting; Guns of the Battle of the Bulge; how to make venison sausage on a backyard barbeque sponsored by Bradley Smokers; a video and panel discussion on the late Jeff Cooper, Gunsite founder, "Jeff Cooper: A Man In Full"; "Handloading Today," and a seminar sponsored by LifeLock on protecting yourself from identity theft. Attorneys from around the country attended the annual Firearms Law Seminar to hear a panel of constitutional scholars and attorneys discuss the latest firearm law cases, including the momentous U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.
Members poured into the North Ballroom Saturday morning to hear from NRA leaders and attend to the association's business. In his Executive Vice President's message, Wayne LaPierre enumerated the lies propagated by Obama administration officials and the media about so-called "assault weapons" and the call to ban them ostensibly to stop illegal guns from crossing the U.S. border into Mexico to arm the violent drug cartels. LaPierre declared that Americans won't stand for such an attack on their freedom.
"The American people ... will never surrender their right to protect themselves, defend their families and defend their freedom here in the United States of America," he proclaimed. "The National Rifle Association will always defend that God-given birthright from every enemy out there, both foreign and domestic!" LaPierre also recognized the oldest and youngest NRA Life members in attendance. The oldest member was Nick P. Mascovich of Salinas, Calif. (born in 1919), and the youngest was Dillon Harsanyi of Amarillo, Texas (born in 2008).
NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox explained how freedom is under attack by gun-ban officials in the Obama administration. He credited the administration with one positive attribute: "[They] deserve credit for the only part of the economy going strong—gun sales!"
NRA President John Sigler thanked members for helping him meet his goals to secure America's legacy of freedom.
"Because of you, and thanks to you, our precious Right to Keep and Bear Arms and our God-given right to defend ourselves have a firmer foundation, a broader base of support and a faster growing alliance of advocates than ever before ...".
NRA First Vice President Ron Schmeits talked about building NRA membership. "Together," he said, "we will ensure that Americans always have the right to protect themselves and together we will build a brighter future for the Second Amendment and for all the freedoms that it guarantees ...". Schmeits was later elected NRA's 60th president at the NRA Board of Directors meeting.
NRA Second Vice President David Keene defined what makes the NRA such a vital and successful advocacy group.
"We comprise the most effective lobby in Washington," Keene noted. "Not just because of our willingness to stand up and be counted, but because we bring data, arguments and history to the table in a way that simply cannot be ignored."
Freedom rang loudly across the desert Friday evening when 500 members gathered for the third annual NRA Ring of Freedom reception, held at the Corona Ranch near Laveen, AZ. NRA Ring of Freedom members have given $1,000 or more in the past year, or $100,000 or more in a lifetime to benefit any NRA program.
Insurance administrator AGIA and firearm manufacturer Sturm, Ruger and Co. were inducted into the prestigious NRA Golden Ring of Freedom during a special recognition ceremony.
Freedom rang loudly across the desert Friday evening when 500 members gathered for the third annual NRA Ring of Freedom reception.
Joe Gregory, co-chair of the NRA Ring of Freedom National Advisory Council, invited AGIA President John Wigle and Ruger CEO Mike Fifer on stage to receive the Golden Ring of Freedom's symbolic gold blazer, and to ring the stately Freedom's Bell. The NRA Golden Ring of Freedom honors individuals, groups and corporations that have donated gifts of cash or assets totaling $1 million or more.
The Corporate Executives' Luncheon on Thursday, May 14 at the Arizona Club honored Eric Johanson as the 2009 NRA Distinguished Corporate Leader.
The award was bestowed to Johanson for his support of the NRA's mission to secure America's Second Amendment freedoms. Johanson, chairman of the board of Johanson Technology, Advanced Monolithic Ceramics, has been heavily involved with the NRA's Freedom Action Foundation.
A women's luncheon at the Wrigley Mansion promoted the development of a national leadership group comprised of dedicated women who will enhance the NRA's philanthropic efforts to secure our firearm freedoms.
NRA Women's Policies Committee member Suzie Brewster hosted the event with Susan LaPierre. Nearly 100 women were in attendance as LaPierre spoke of the role women can play in supporting the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Maryann Carter and Ingrid Sigler, NRA benefactors and NRA Ring of Freedom members, were acknowledged for their leadership in NRA's philanthropic efforts.
Myriad meeting collectibles were available at the NRA Store and lines were long throughout the weekend.
There were also opportunities to purchase celebrity-signed books by such notables as Lt. Col. Oliver North, USMC (ret.), former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, outdoorsman and NRA Board member Ted Nugent, political commentator Dick Morris and ABC "20/20" commentator John Stossel.
The crowd of 64,324 attendees was warmly welcomed by the city of Phoenix, and according to news reports, helped stimulate the local economy to the tune of $70 million. An entertaining experience was had by all.
The NRA EVP rallies members for the assault weapons ban battle. "There are three kinds of lies," says LaPierre, quoting Mark Twain, "plain ol' lies, damn lies and statistics." With the media and the political realm weaving "damn lies" and corrupt statistics together for the sake of their anti-gun agendas, LaPierre explains that there is imminent danger to Second Amendment rights. He rolls clips of Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Dianne Feinstein and President Obama among others, that expose the bias currently infiltrating the mainstream airways-especially over the statistical "evidence" on the number of U.S. guns being used for Mexican drug cartels. On this point, LaPierre says to Mexico, "You keep your drugs, we'll keep our guns, and keep your hands off our freedoms!"
Mexican drug cartels have become a platform for U.S. anti-gun agendas. NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox addresses this problem with members at the 2009 Meetings in Phoenix, Arizona. "This is Mexico's problem, but the media and anti-gun politicians want us to believe that one more American gun-control law, or some international "agreement," will turn these ruthless murderers into Boy Scouts," says Cox. As politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder attack the Second Amendment over the profusion of gun violence and corruption in Mexico, Cox reminds NRA members of the myths behind the first semi-auto ban under the Clinton administration, the God-given right to self-defense that is promised in the U.S. Constitution and the importance of keeping the NRA strong for this battle and those still to come for future generations.
The price of American freedom and those who would destroy it. NRA President John Sigler tells the story of Wes Plummer, a U.S. Marine veteran who fought in the bloody battle of Iwo Jima, and introduces him to the audience as an American hero and NRA Life member. "The freedoms that we enjoy as Americans and that we celebrate today are the direct product of the service and sacrifice of generations of patriots like Wes Plummer," Sigler says to members at the 2009 Meetings in Phoenix, Arizona. "So how dare so many people at home and abroad try to steal those freedoms?" With an imminent battle to reinstate the Clinton assault weapons ban on the horizon and anti-gun politicians and media polluting the national consciousness, Sigler urges his fellow NRA members to continue their hard work defending the Second Amendment and reaching out to new members.
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A four-day celebration of freedom featuring acres of exhibits, premier events, educational seminars and workshops, and fun-filled activities.