The National Rifle Association is the largest pro-gun organization on planet Earth. The United States is the epicenter of the firearms world. Every spring, for tens of thousands of members, the NRA hosts an event that does more to bring the firearms industry and American gun owners together than any other single event that I am aware of. And you should seriously consider attending.
I put off going to the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits (NRAAM) for way too many years. Unlike most of the “trade shows” and “training conferences” that I’ve attended for approaching two decades, the NRA show wasn’t high on my priority list until I was invited to speak on defensive training topics several years ago. Attending the NRAAM gave me an opportunity to interact with fellow gun owners, particularly those interested in defensive use of arms, in a way that I hadn’t in the past.
Trade shows have been a centerpiece of my business development, content generation, and networking. Training conferences have been instrumental in both reaching new students and collaborating with other instructors. But the NRAAM has a much more diverse collection of attendees than either of those events. Trade show attendees can largely be divided into insiders and others. Some people are there to do business and others are there to see and be seen. Those without a business agenda at a trade show can sometimes get in the way and often feel “outside” of the event itself, very much spectators to what is going on.
Training conferences are much more intense than a collection of exhibits in a hall. Full immersion in short training sessions, lectures, range time, and often mentally and physically demanding classes keep casual observers away. This means the attendance numbers are often relatively small and offer less value to industry companies in regard to showing up to exhibit their wares and promote their products.
The NRAAM is designed to level the playing field among the die-hards who might attend a training conference, the professionals who can’t miss a trade show, and the more casual gun owner who just wants to be part of the community. Everyone manning a booth at NRAAM, from the largest companies to the smallest, knows that the next person they talk to could be a new gun owner, a lifelong NRA member, a media professional, a gun shop owner, or a vice president of one of the largest companies in the industry. True to the core mission of the NRA, there are many political speeches and fundraising events for everyone to participate in, as well as educational events, concerts, and banquets with thousands of participants. In the exhibit hall itself, people can visit with representatives of all the leading companies in the industry and often take advantage of show specials on all varieties of equipment and accessories.
As a business owner and the Executive Director of Personal Defense Network, I have strongly encouraged the instructors teaching our programs and contributing content to attend this event. In fact, I have advised most of them to choose NRAAM over other industry events, if they can choose only one to attend. Every year, I greatly look forward to the opportunity to speak to thousands of attendees in formal presentations on defensive topics in the lecture hall. It is an honor to be invited by the NRA and it is a humbling compliment that people allot a couple of hours out of their event itinerary to hearing what I have to say.
At these lectures, attendees have the opportunity to meet several instructors from around the country, and we always spend plenty of time shaking hands, signing books, and answering specific questions. The NRAAM features many other great seminars worth attending for those interested in self-defense. This year’s highlights included presentations from Sergeant Major (Ret.) Kyle Lamb and Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Grossman, both of whom are outstanding speakers and educators.
The last reason I advise you to take advantage of the opportunities presented by NRAAM is to meet your peers inside and outside of the formal events. Every year, tens of thousands of NRA members from all around the country show up in a city, fill almost every available hotel room, crowd the bars and restaurants every evening, and spill out on the streets just about 24 hours a day. I’ve truly enjoyed the casual interactions with fellow NRA members that occur everywhere over the weekend.
There’s something nice about being 95% sure that the people you get into the elevator with, walk down the street next to, hold the door open for, sit next to in a restaurant, and probably fly into and out of town with are fellow proud American gun owners. When you add tens of thousands of people to a medium-sized city, you can be pretty sure you’re going to see them at hotels, restaurants, bars and travel centers. All the NRA pins, hats, patches, shirts and jackets help, but the friendly and respectful attitude of most attendees is really what makes everyone feel comfortable and encourages interaction.
I can’t tell you what your favorite part of attending the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits will be, but I can tell you that if you are a firearms enthusiast, if you enjoy the company of other gun owners, and if you feel it is important to support our community and the fight to protect the Right To Keep and Bear Arms, you should seriously consider attending. Next year’s event will be held in May in Louisville, Kentucky.