Editors Note: This story and interview with The Reload’s Stephen Gutowski were conducted before today’s shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas in which 14 students and a teacher were killed. In light of this horrific news, there’s another very big question surrounding the NRA’s Annual Meeting in Houston; namely whether it will still take place at all. We’ve reached out to the NRA’s Public Affairs office for comment, and will update if and when we hear back.
The 151st Annual Meetings of the National Rifle Association kick off this Friday in Houston, Texas, and Bearing Arms will be on the ground all weekend long covering the action from Friday’s NRA-ILA Leadership Forum (including an appearance from former president Donald Trump) to Monday’s meeting of the NRA’s Board of Directors, where former board member Allen West hopes to become the group’s next executive vice-president (and current EVP Wayne LaPierre hopes that board members will continue to stand by his leadership).
We’re previewing this weekend on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co with The Reload’s Stephen Gutowski, and in our conversation we ended up focusing on several big questions, starting with this one:
1- How many people will show up?
This is the first full-scale NRA Annual Meeting to be held since 2019, with the 2020 and 2021 meetings cancelled over COVID concerns. Pre-pandemic NRA Annual Meetings were routinely drawing northwards of 80,000 members in the years before the COVID-19 virus led to the shuttering of most large-scale events, and while I would be shocked if the NRA sets a new attendance record this year, the fact that most of us are trying to adjust to a world where COVID is endemic could lead to a smaller-than-expected decline in attendance. I’d argue that conservative-leaning gatherings are also less susceptible to large declines in attendance than events put on by left-leaning outfits. This year’s SHOT Show in Las Vegas, for example, hosted about 43,000 attendees, which was down slightly from the 55,000 or so who attended in 2020. Compare that to the attendance at the Consumer Electronics Show, also held in Vegas, which declined by almost 75% between 2020 and 2022.
The NRA’s Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania took in more than 165,000 visitors during its nine-day run this year, down from 179,000 in 2020 when the show was last held, so I don’t think we’re looking at that steep a drop for NRA’s attendance, even with the controversies surrounding the group’s leadership and the fact that the Annual Meetings will be taking place over the Memorial Day holiday. My semi-educated guess is somewhere between 70-80,000 attendees over this coming weekend, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was closer to the high end of that figure.
2- What will Trump say?
Actually, Gutowski and I didn’t spend much time on this particular question during our conversation, but it’s still one of this weekend’s big storylines. What will be on Trump’s mind as he addresses NRA members? Well, I doubt we’re going to hear a full-throated defense of his bump stock ban or an endorsement of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, but other than that the possibilities are endless. I don’t expect Trump to announce a 2024 presidential run, but there’ll likely be plenty of hints in that direction, along with well-deserved jabs at Joe Biden’s war on legal gun owners and the firearms industry. I would also expect that Trump would talk up his judicial appointments, including the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices, especially as we’re all waiting with anticipation for what the Supreme Court will say in its pending decision in the New York carry case.
3- Who wins the fight for Executive Vice President?
This is undoubtably the biggest issue heading into the NRA Annual Meeting, though perhaps not the biggest question. Both Gutowski and I agree that Wayne LaPierre is likely to remain as executive vice president of the organization despite a challenge by former board member Allen West, who announced his candidacy a couple of weeks ago. In an open letter to board members, West never mentioned LaPierre by name, and in fact said that he’s not running “against” anyone, including the sitting EVP.
I have answered the call to run for Executive Vice President of the NRA for only one reason; to serve the members and restore the trust and confidence of the membership in the organization. I am not running against anyone, which is an absurd supposition. I am running for the preservation of the NRA and the restoration of its honor, integrity, and character. My objective is simple, a return to our core competencies of marksmanship training and programs along with protection of our Second Amendment rights.
The blog NRA in Danger, which has called for LaPierre’s removal by the board for some time, also posted an email purportedly from NRA board member Marion Hammer to her fellow board members urging them to stay the course.
Anytime your fellow Board members abandon truth and honor in favor of self-serving agendas for personal and financial gain, it is not only sad but deserving of contempt. For them to be trying to take down Wayne La Pierre, a man who has done so much for NRA, gun rights, preserving the Second Amendment and protecting Freedom in America, is about low as it gets.
Then, along comes Allen West, a man with more failures to his professional credit than anyone would ever imagine, pretending to ride in on a white horse to save the day. What I see is a hungry man, desperately in need of a job riding in on a jackass to try to take down a Second Amendment hero and gut the NRA.
Does this sound like a man you want representing you and NRA?
As Gutowski explains, this particular fight will take place largely outside the view of most members. The NRA board meetings will take place on Monday after the exhibits and acres of guns and gear have been packed away, but we could see some fireworks on Saturday morning during the official members meeting when members will have the opportunity to present resolutions on a number of topics, including LaPierre’s continued tenure. The members themselves won’t be casting a vote on whether or not LaPierre remains on the job, however. That duty is relegated to board members themselves, and last year board member Rocky Marshall only received two votes in his challenge to LaPierre’s leadership, with the vast majority of the board members in attendance voting to stick with the status quo.
Gutowski says the NRA members that he spoke to in Harrisburg continue to support the organization, though almost everyone has something they wish the group was doing differently (a greater emphasis on firearms training was a common thread of Great American Outdoor Show attendees according to The Reload founder). If there is a genuine groundswell of members calling for change this weekend, Monday’s vote could get very interesting, but at this point I’d put the odds of Wayne LaPierre remaining as EVP higher than 50%.
For many attendees, the drama surrounding the board’s vote won’t even register. They’re coming to take in the sights and sounds of the Annual Meeting, gather together with tens of thousands of their fellow Second Amendment supporters, and have a good time after the past two years of COVID craziness. We’ll be covering it all here on Bearing Arms beginning on Friday, and we’ll have on-the-ground coverage throughout the weekend as well.