Welcome to NRA convention week. About a year ago, we, and by we, we mean Dallas' feisty alt-weekly, were sitting in the same spot you are now, wondering what to expect from Wayne LaPierre and his merry band of misfits. Given that we've already seen the other side, we figured sharing some of our experiences, and a little advice, might be helpful.
The most important thing to remember, whether you're a member of the local media or any other Indianapolis resident, is that it will all be over soon. No matter how dystopian the vibe or the rhetoric, come seven days from now, the open-carriers, national politicians and "15 acres of guns and gear" will have left your fine city. Until then, though, here's what we learned last year.
1. The area around the Indianapolis Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium will be a nightmare. — Avoid it if you can, especially Friday, when President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence descend on downtown Indianapolis for their speeches to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action's Leadership Forum. Traffic will grind to an inevitable halt if you're trying to get around in your car. If you're on foot, let's just say Secret Service agents are particularly antsy when they have to do their jobs around thousands of firearms.
2. Expect protests. — While the number of protesters demonstrating against the NRA probably won't be as high this year as it was in Dallas — last year's NRA convention came in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — activists will dot the area around the convention center, arguing for gun control and more research into gun violence. Convention attendees and NRA officials will cite the protesters as proof that socialism is creeping into America's society and political system. On the plus side, you might get to see Alyssa Milano, like we did at a downtown Dallas protest last year.
3. Don't believe the financial hype. — According to an Indianapolis Star article, city tourism representatives expect the convention to have an economic impact of about $35.3 million on Indianapolis. While Dallas tourism representatives touted a similar number last year — about $42 million in direct and indirect spending — academic research of previous conventions shows that the actual economic impact of the annual NRA meeting is probably much lower.
4. Saturday is more fun than Friday. — Friday's Trump and Pence speeches are the big-ticket events — as evidenced by the fact that you'll have to head to the Colts' stadium to see them. But Saturday's members meeting paints a far more striking vision of what the NRA is and what it stands for.
"America, our precious country, is teetering on the abyss, and this coming election is a guarantee of our worst nightmares if we don't reach from one end of the country to the other," LaPierre told his organization's members last May. "This election will determine if the Second Amendment survives or is headed for complete extinction."
5. If you have to go Friday, leave your gun at home. — You can bring your gun to the convention, but not inside the leadership forum at which Trump and Pence will speak. Turns out the Secret Service looks down on that kind of thing.
6. Get ready to be overwhelmed by the gear. — If you've never been to an NRA annual meeting or something like it, the sheer amount of guns, tactical gear and survival equipment on display and for sale will feel overwhelming. NRA literature says there's 15 acres of it in the convention center, but the exhibit hall feels like a complete, alternate reality when you're standing in the middle of it. Members of the media, take note: You might want to put your credential in your pocket or bag if you want anyone to talk to you on the floor.
7. If you're a local business, have fun with the convention being in town. — Ellen's restaurant in Dallas' West End made a national name for itself last year when it pledged on its receipts to donate a portion of all proceeds during the convention to "organizations dedicated to implementing reasonable and effective gun regulations," leading to a boycott of the restaurant by some of the convention's attendees.
"Within hours of the message being placed on the receipts, the NRA was aware of it and issued a boycott of the restaurant that was read and retweeted by tens of thousands of people," Ellen's said in a press release. "The reaction was instantaneous and overwhelming, with feedback streaming in from around the world. Over the next four days, the restaurant received thousands of social media post comments, multiple threats, fake reviews, prank phone calls, and visits from individuals who stood outside the restaurant to discourage people from dining there."
Despite the backlash, the restaurant said their decision had positive results.
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"The positive response to the boycott was far greater, with an outpouring of support in the form of patronage, verbal and written comments of support, and, importantly, in the form of donations to the cause," according to the release. "The entire Ellen’s team is excited that the 'receipt heard around the world' has taken on a life of its own, bringing in donations and support from around the globe."
With a little effort, you, small downtown Indianapolis eatery, can become the next restaurant to piss off the NRA and get yourself on the national news.
We hope this helps,
Your Friends at the Dallas Observer