In some ways, the debate over gun control has been good for the National Rifle
The nation's largest and most powerful gun rights group holds its annual meeting in Houston this weekend, and it's expected to be its biggest and most-watched gathering ever -- perhaps 80,000 people, more than 400 exhibitors, 600 credentialed media and possibly a future presidential candidate or two. "I don't think there's anything this year that's business as usual. We're in a very unique point in time as far as the Second Amendment is concerned," spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.
The annual meeting is required under the NRA's bylaws to elect people to its 76-member board of directors. But the event has become more than a business meeting and includes a gun show, awards dinners, a political rally, a prayer service and a country music concert.
Last year's meeting -- a required stop for GOP candidates in an election year -- drew 73,740 people in St. Louis. The exact attendance won't be known until next week, but organizers say they already had 70,000 confirmed attendees this week. And they've booked three times as many hotel rooms as the 2005 meeting, when it was last in Houston.
Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the convention was booked five years in advance. One draw for Houston, he said, was the state's permissive laws on carrying firearms. The vast majority of the attendees are day-trippers who will drive from Texas and neighboring states, he said. "It's a convention that a lot of families come to. It's unique in that respect. Most people don't take their families to an oil and gas trade show," Ortale said.
The convention will likely draw protests. Gun-control advocates painted NRA leaders as right-wing ideologues financed by the firearms industry and increasingly out of touch with their own members.
"They espouse an insurrectionist, anti-democratic philosophy, and they have a lot of people on their board that, to put it lightly, you wouldn't want in polite company," said Josh Horwitz, director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
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