The National Rifle Association's annual convention is in Dallas this weekend. For gun-rights advocates, it's Mardi Gras. More than 800 exhibitors displaying acres and acres of gear, gun accessories and literature. An air-soft range. Seminars on the "guns of Vietnam" and the "survival mindset."
It's got everything for protesters, too. Donald Trump. Mike Pence. Ted Cruz. Lots of country music. Conservatives talking about securing schools with guns. Donald Trump.
For people in Dallas, however, the NRA bringing its dog and pony show to town brings up one overriding question: How big of a pain in the ass is this thing going to be for me and my Cinco de Mayo weekend?
The Observer is here to serve, so here's a guide to taking in as much, or as little, of the spectacle this weekend as you'd like.
Unless you already have tickets, you aren't getting in to see Trump, Pence and all the other politicians speaking at the convention Friday afternoon.
Before Trump decided to attend the convention last weekend, tickets for Leadership Forum — the convention's big political rally — were already scarce, with only back-of-the-house general admission ducats remaining. Once reports surfaced that Trump was speaking to conventioneers as well, those tickets disappeared quickly. The forum is sold out, so watch it on your TV at the office.
The traffic situation Friday and Saturday downtown is going to be rough.
Dallas Police Department Assistant Chief Paul Stokes said DPD will be shutting down streets throughout downtown as the president and vice president make their way to and from the convention. On Saturday, Young Street between Griffin Street and Ervay Street, and Akard Street between Young Street and Canton Street near City Hall will both be shut down all day because of expected protests.
There are going to be protests.
Texans for Gun Sense are hosting an event at City Hall Plaza before the convention swings into full gear Friday. Dominique Alexander's Next Generation Action Network is leading a protest Saturday, and a die-in takes place at City Hall on Friday night. On Saturday afternoon, actress Alyssa Milano is expected to speak at a Belo Garden rally put on by a group that calls itself NoRA — No Rifle Association — a collection of celebrities and activists who aim to challenge the NRA's political clout.
Stokes said he couldn't comment on strategy or how many cops DPD is committing to protests or security efforts but that the department hopes everyone in the city gets involved.
"We fully anticipate that the Dallas community and visitors to this great city will enjoy this event and participate in whatever capacity, whether they're protesters, counterprotesters or supporters," Stokes said. "We've done extensive planning with our law enforcement partners, and we're ready."
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Those who aren't involved should avoid downtown. The Dallas Convention, VisitDallas and the NRA estimate that more than 80,000 NRA members will be in town over the convention's three official days. Downtown is hard enough to navigate when it's drowned in cheerleaders or volleyball players during their events at the convention center.
Should I get involved?
If you want. Given the logistical and security nightmares, we'd recommend going to Lone Star Park and enjoying the Kentucky Derby instead. Put a couple of bucks on Mendelssohn and donate the proceeds to the pro- or anti-gun candidate of your choice. You'll save yourself a lot of stress.
What if I want to check out the convention?
The convention is only open to NRA members, but you can buy a membership at the door for $40. That'll get you in to see the exhibits, but not the speakers Friday. Disappointingly, your new membership will not allow you to vote during the NRA's annual members' meeting Saturday. You have to have been a member by March 18 to get in on the action.
It's all over Sunday.
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre will be out of Dallas by Sunday night, when the convention closes its doors. Don't worry, though — Dallas will be overrun again in six weeks when the Southern Baptist Convention descends on downtown.