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My suitcase sits unpacked against the bedroom wall, and between calls for comfort (I have not one, but both daughters home sick today) I’m reading up on the media’s coverage of the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting and Exhibits in Indianapolis, Indiana. I just returned from there last night, and the medias coverage is roughly what you might expect.

The reliably biased mainstream media focuses on the speeches of attending politicians (we’ve linked most of them here) and NRA executives. I suppose that can’t blame them. It’s the easy way to do reporting, that sadly has become the norm for “professionals.”

Here’s how it works.

You listen to a speech, or just as likely, get the pre-printed transcript. You cherry-pick the most provocative quotes that will help confirm the article you had decided to write before you stepped through the door for your press credentials.  You file a story from your hotel room, and catch your flight home. If you’re lucky, you can do all of this without having to spend time with any of the people actually attending the show.

I happen to think that this sort of “helicopter journalism”—bouncing in, bouncing out—entirely misses the point of these large consumer shows, where triumphant capitalism, possible dreams, spur-of-the-moment quips, and most importantly, individual connections, are the order of the day.

 

nra annual meeting exhibits
Attendees weave through the packed exhibit halls at the NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

On two of the three days of the show, I arrived early to watch the growing crowds milling around, patiently waiting for the exhibit halls to open. I overheard a husband talking to his wife about wanting to go directly to the Mossberg booth to check out a shotgun he’d read about online. She was fine with that, but made him promise that after that they were heading to see Galco afterward to check out a new purse for her (presumably for concealed carry).

I saw mothers and fathers trying to wrangle their wide-eyed and excited children, and those old-timers waiting patiently against the back wall.

Exhibitors break open boxes of brochures, tee shirt, hats and decals, took a last swig of coffee, and smiled sincere (if tired) smiles as the doors open and the crowds flood in, full of excitement and wonder.

It’s something that I wished the speech-quoting media would take the time to really see with open eyes and an open heart.

I watched a vendor—an industry show veteran used to selling to other people in the industry—get a little giddy making his first-ever retail sale. It was to an old soldier that recognized the brilliance of the tool his company had created.

I witnessed the twinkle in the eyes and obvious pride of an elderly exhibitor as he showed the miniature handguns—some just an inch long—he’d painstakingly created to a pair of attendees.

winchester
An original, transitional Winchester 1873 short rifle, altered after leaving the factory, with a rawhide leather-repaired dried stock.

I watched proud collectors of antique arms show off their collections, patiently answering questions, providing history and context, hinting that the freedoms we retain are there because these arms once defended this nation in the darkest and most desperate of times.

ww1 mg
U.S. Colt Automatic Gun Model 1914, AKA “Potato Digger.” The world’s first practical gas-actuated machine gun.

I watched industry veterans greeted each other with handshakes and firm hugs. For some, it’s almost like a working family reunion.

coonan
Coonan’s new 4″ .357 Magnum 1911 pistol.

I listened as the vice president of a company smiled as he told me about how, at a string of recent shows he’s attended, husbands and boyfriends had brought their wives and girlfriends to see guns they had just ordered, only to be delighted that their wives and girlfriends wanted the same gun, just in a more “blinged-up” version.

I saw a press room that—apart from a handful of scowling drive-by journalists—was full of people thrilled to meet other journalists, podcasters, vloggers, YouTubers, and bloggers that until then, they’d admired only from afar.

Yes… the speeches matter. They shape policy, expose leaders… and sometimes expose frauds.

To this first-time attendee, however, the real message of the NRA Annual Meeting was a celebration of relationships both old and new, and a renewed, shared commitment to continue fighting for the liberty that our Founding Fathers obtained for us.

It isn’t about “us versus them,” as the drive-by media reported in their ignorance. It was much more about, “I’ll be there with you, through thick and thin, no matter what they throw at us.”

That’s the story that someone quickly rushing in for a soundbite, and quickly rushing out again, simply can’t be bothered to tell.