By Frank Iannamico
The 140th annual NRA meeting was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania marking the second time the NRA had its meeting in Pittsburgh. The first NRA Convention in Pittsburgh was held in 2004, where attendance set a then record high of over 61,000 attendees. Official turnout for this year’s four-day event was 71,139 - the second highest recorded (the highest attendance record was in Charlotte, North Carolina with over 72,000 attendees.) Card carrying NRA members were admitted free and lawfully carried firearms were permitted in the Convention Center and Exhibit Hall. Virtually every notable firearm and accessory manufacturer in the country was represented at the 2011 show, with a record breaking 559 exhibitor booths set up to display their latest offerings and product lines. One interesting item of note was the increased presence of military-type “black” rifles and accessories as compared to the 2004 NRA Convention. There were also many exhibits of firearms collections; one of particular interest was a display featuring the machine gun designs of John Browning, presented by The American Thompson Association.
This year’s convention began on Thursday, April 28, with the Antique Guns and Gold Showcase, where NRA members had the opportunity to bring their antique guns and coins to be evaluated by ten experts from the NRA Gun Collectors Committee. Some of the more interesting items that were brought in were filmed for a future TV series. One of the most valuable pieces was a Haga Pennsylvania long rifle dating from the American Revolution era and the estimated value was in the high five figure area.
The vendor exhibits were primarily to introduce new products and answer questions. Nothing could be purchased directly at the show although many vendors were taking orders and offering free shipping. Virtually all exhibitors were handing out brochures of their product lines and trinkets. A few of the exhibitors of interest to SAR readers would include, but not be limited to: Advanced Armament, Aim Inc., American Tactical Imports, American Thompson Association, Americase, ArmaLite Inc., Barrett Firearms, Berretta USA, Blackheart International, Bushmaster, Century International Arms, Inc., Cheaper Than Dirt, Choate Machine and Tool, Colt, Czech Point, Dillon Precision, DoubleStar Corporation, DPMS Firearms, Elite Survival Systems, Gemtech, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Kahr Arms, Kriss USA, LaRue Tactical, Lauer Custom Weaponry/DuraCoat Finishes, Lone Wolf Distributors, Numrich Gun Parts Corporation, Ohio Ordnance Works, POF-USA, Rock River Arms, SIG Sauer, Springfield Armory, Stag Arms, Surefire, TAPCO, Trijicon, and Wolf Performance Ammunition.
Along with the exhibits, there were a number of meetings, seminars and workshops available. Attendance for some of the presentations required those interested to register for tickets well in advance, all had standing room-only crowds. Some of the popular seminars included: Firearms Law, NRA-ILA Grass Roots workshop, Refuse to be a Victim, Methods of Concealed Carry, A Financial workshop, Benefits of NRA Club association, Advanced Handloading Techniques, and a presentation “The Greatest Pistol in the World, 100 years of the U.S. 1911.” Among the speakers at the presentation were World War II veterans Don Burgett and Dr. Sidney C. Phillips. Dr. Phillips’ World War II experiences were presented on HBOs’ mini series “The Pacific.”
The National NRA Foundation Banquet and Auction was held on Thursday evening in the Spirit of Pittsburgh Ballroom at the Convention Center. Attendees had the opportunity to bid on firearms, gear and hunting trips. Proceeds for the auction will be used to fund programs to promote the safe and responsible use of firearms across the country.
The Celebration of American Values Leadership Forum was held in the Spirit of Pittsburgh Ballroom on Friday April 29. The room was packed with NRA members to hear political figures, like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; Colonel Oliver North; presidential candidates Herman Cain and Rick Santorum; former UN Ambassador John Bolton; Senators Pat Toomy and Joe Manchin; former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell; Congressman Jason Altmire; and military heroes Sergeant Greg Stube and Major Dan Rooney.
On Friday, the Fifth Annual NRA-ILA Dinner and Auction was held at Heinz Field. A sell out crowd attended the live auction that raised over $400,000 for the NRA-ILA’s legislative and political efforts. An original artwork painted and donated by John Seerey-Lester resulted in aggressive bidding for the beautiful piece entitled “Twilight Trophy.” The bidding ended with a record setting offer of $60,000, with 100% going to the NRA-ILA. Heinz Field is the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team and a number of the team members were on hand to participate in the bidding.
As the auction was winding down on Friday evening, the NRA Country Jam 1 was starting, headed by Army veteran and gun enthusiast Craig Morgan. There were several other up-and-coming Nashville acts featured. All of the proceeds from the show were donated to Folds of Honor, a foundation that provides financial aid to the families of fallen U.S. troops. The organization’s founder, Major Dan Rooney, was on hand to greet and speak with attendees.
On Saturday, a large crowd attended the NRA Annual Meeting of Members. Following the reports of NRA officers, the Report of the Committee on Elections was given, and newly elected NRA Board members recognized. Attendees were shown a video about threats to their 2nd Amendment rights. The meeting concluded with a passage of a resolution regarding BATF&E operations.
In addition to the exhibitors, there were many guest speakers and celebrities present. On Saturday evening, a large crowd attended the Celebration of American Values Freedom Experience held in the CONSOL Energy Center. Opening the program was a performance by comedian Jeff Foxworthy. After his show, NRA’s Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, Wayne LaPierre introduced Michael Regan, son of the late President Ronald Regan, who spoke to the audience of his father’s mission to make the United States the model of freedom around the world, and presented the Ronald Regan Leadership Award to Mr. Joe Gregory. Following Mr. Regan was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who concluded the presentation.
Rocker, and staunch supporter of the 2nd amendment, Ted Nugent was interviewed in the exhibit hall by Cam Edwards of NRA news. On Sunday “Uncle Ted” presented his seminar “I Still Believe” to an enthusiastic, standing room only crowd.
The 2011 Convention concluded on Sunday, May 1 with the Annual Prayer Meeting Breakfast at the Pittsburgh Wyndham Grand Hotel downtown.
A few of the other notable persons present at the convention were: Richard Heller, who challenged Washington, D.C.’s gun ban, Dave Sevigny, Randi Rogers and Tori Nonaka from Team Glock, Larry Potterfield from Midway USA (Midway USA was the official sponsor of the event), Jim Scoutten and Michael Bane of the Outdoor Channel, Jessie Abbate from the Friends of the NRA TV program, Julie Goloski Golob from Team Smith & Wesson and last but not least was R. Lee Ermey.
Most of the local media coverage during the week of the event was very positive.
The NRA Conventions are a celebration of the 2nd Amendment, and the ever increasing attendance at the Conventions is an indication of the growing support for our right to bear arms. The 2012 NRA Convention is scheduled to be held in St. Louis, Missouri.
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