CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In past years, some cities have faced a bit of controversy about hosting the National Rifle Association’s annual convention. Of course, those who hesitate cut off their noses to spite their wallets: “Organizers say they expect at least 70,000 visitors. Hotels are booked, restaurants will be packed, and the entire event is expected to pump $20 million into the local economy.” So far, from the crowds I’ve seen in the neighborhood around the convention center, it’s younger than you might picture — a lot of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, I suspect — and more women than you might expect. I’m told some folks make this their family vacations.
Cam had told me it was a big event, but the scope of it is really expansive; more than 500 booths with every possible product, service, and business relating to firearms, hunting, and personal protection. If you’re not a diehard gun guy, the sheer volume and variety of firearms and related equipment at the NRA convention is jaw-dropping. For example, there are booths for African Elephant Hair Bracelets, “The Concealment Shop,” Hillsdale College, and the “North South Skirmish Association,” booths dedicated entirely to “custom-fit hearing protection,” booths devoted entirely to binoculars, safaris to every corner of the world imaginable, and of course, an NRA Wine Club. (Perhaps you’re looking for a vintage of a higher caliber.)
While I’m not a diehard gun guy, I am a diehard 24 guy, and tomorrow in Booth 701 I can check out the model that is Jack Bauer’s gun, the Sig Sauer P229. I suspect each time you fire it, a voice shouts, “Who do you work for?” and the round tortures answers out of your target.
Sarah Palin is the headline speaker tomorrow; and no, she’s not taking a fee for this address. The other current and former GOP officials who are speaking — and whose appearance gives off a whiff of 2012 ambitions — include Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who appears Sunday. As far as I can tell, Rep. Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat, is the lone representative of his party speaking. Sean Hannity was also scheduled to speak this weekend but had to cancel at the last minute; fellow Fox News host Glenn Beck will appear in his place.
By the way, for those mainstream-media folks looking for a quick and easy way to demonize all conventiongoers and NRA members as dangerous insurrectionists, an ad in the program for the new Benelli Vinci 12-gauge shotgun shows a masked man in camouflage holding the product beneath the slogan “LET THE REVOLUTION BEGIN.” Of course, they pretty obviously mean a revolution in their product, and the ad print says “the new Benelli Vinci places the shotgun revolution in your hands.” But the facts have never meant much to those determined to paint gun owners as dangerous extremists, so I wanted to give you a heads-up on the next smear coming down the pike. The guy’s eyes look like they could belong to Texas governor Rick Perry, anyway.
Ironically, Charlotte is going to use its performance hosting this convention to help bolster its bid to host another big convention, a perhaps ironic subsequent event: the Democratic National Convention in 2012. Maybe Wayne LaPierre will leave a note at the convention center podium for President Obama.