2018 NRA Annual Meeting (Dallas, Texas) – AAR

I made a quick trip to the NRA Annual Meeting in Dallas.  The NRAAM has basically become a copy of the SHOT show that’s accessible to the general public, combined with a lot of seminars and meetings related to various NRA programs.  The event usually draws more than 80,000 attendees over the multiple days.  Admission is free.  There are many, many blog posts and youTube videos all showing bits and pieces of the event out there if you search for them, way too many for me to link to here.

My experiences at this year’s NRAAM:

THURSDAY Pt 1

Arrived Thursday afternoon.  Very little signage explaining where to park. Parked in a commercial pay to park lot near the convention center. Was immediately approached by a panhandler asking for money.  Put my “Managing Unknown Contacts” skills to use twice, as I had to work around him to get to the pay station and then go by him again to get back to the car to put the tag in the windshield.

No clear signage explaining where registration was. Apparently I parked in the back of the facility, ended up on the back loading dock, and entered the vendor area past security, eventually winding my way to the front to the early bird registration area.  Despite being a Benefactor member, they didn’t give me a “Benefactor” ribbon, only a Life Member ribbon with my registration badge.

Saw some on-duty Dallas PD officers, told them about the panhandler in the parking area. Was disappointed that none of the 3 of them knew enough about the layout around the arena to know where the “P-Star parking lot by the loading dock” was.  But one of them did stroll off to go try to find it and look into the panhandling situation.

Had a stroll through the NRA store, where all the various NRA-branded items were on sale.  Propper, Vertx and 5.11 also had booths inside the NRA store, and I got to chat with one of the Propper execs who was working his own booth.  Double bonus, I was wearing Propper pants and a Propper shirt – all items they had discontinued – and got to talk to the exec about product needs of those carrying concealed in upscale business casual environments.  One big blind spot for all the ‘tactical’ clothing companies is that they think their market is cops – so garments have features intended to appeal to cops, on and off duty.  Reality is that there are less than 1 million cops, but more than 13 million carry permit holders. That’s a much bigger market.  Most of the “concealed carry” shirts and parts that these companies produce have pockets in weird places (Propper shirts have sideways secret chest pockets held closed by magnets) that do get noticed by women and others that pay attention to how others are dressed.

Most of the products I saw at the NRA store continued that “tradition” of being just a little too abnormal to go unnoticed in a true business casual environment.  Penny’s comment is that these companies need an actual fashion consultant, not just cops and retired military people, on staff to help them.  Little things, like making sure the plaid material on the pockets aligns with the plaid on the shirt, get overlooked.  (The whole Plaid Tablecloth shirt design approach has become cliche.)

This particular Vertx shirt includes an interesting feature: an integral “half undershirt” attached to the shirt, to make it easier to wear a single carry garment and still have a layer between bare skin and the gun. That idea is clever, but the shirt itself is too casual for professional wear.

(Aside: one company that probably *should* have been at the NRA show advertising their products is Untuckit. They make higher grade products designed to be worn untucked. I have several of their shirts, and their Austin storefront is staffed by people that are gun friendly – they are Ok with customers trying on shirts in their dressing rooms while wearing holstered pistols as long as it’s done discreetly.)

Carry Guard

Last year NRA rolled out a new program called Carry Guard that included both gun owner ‘insurance’ and a training component.  I have nothing good to say about any aspect of this program. For those that haven’t been paying attention, here’s a quick summary:

1) The insurance was poor compared to all other programs offered by non-NRA alternatives such as Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network.

2) At last year’s NRAAM, companies competing with Carry Guard in the insurance/legal market were not allowed to have booths. This year ACLDN had a booth but USCCA and others did not.

3) When Carry Guard rolled out, I contacted them about becoming a Carry Guard instructor and about hosting Carry Guard classes.  A year later, I (and apparently thousands of others) who contacted them have never been replied to.

4) An early Carry Guard misstep was to tell students they could not bring revolvers or 1911 style pistols to class.  This was only rectified after significant outcry from potential Carry Guard students and major industry manufacturers who produce revolvers and 1911-pattern pistols.

5) There are over 5,000 people certified to teach the NRA’s Personal Protection Outside the Home course – a class offering training similar to what the Carry Guard program offers.  KR Training‘s Defensive Pistol Skills 1, 2 and 3 courses are derived from, and aligned with, this NRA course. At this year’s NRAAM, tens of thousands of dollars were spent promoting the Carry Guard program — with ZERO dollars spent to promote ANY program, trainer, or course connected to the NRA’s Training and Education Division. The T&E division is the official training operation of the NRA  Not Carry Guard.  Instead, magazine-sized books were available, by the hundreds, promoting Carry Guard.

As I discuss in my Beyond the One Percent presentation, basic level NRA instructors, who provide the state-mandated training for concealed carry and Hunter Education, are the primary source in the US for most gun owners to receive training.  As many as a million students a year take NRA basic level firearms classes.

The Carry Guard program, by comparison, has only offered a few, expensive, poorly advertised, 3 day courses that have limited/zero appeal to the average carry permit holder. The Carry Guard instructor team is a tiny number of former military personnel with close ties to the non-NRA for-profit ad agency.

From a pure business perspective, there is no way the Carry Guard training program generated enough revenue in the last year to pay for the level of advertising presented at the NRAAM. And without expanding the program to incorporate local and regional trainers, or even responding to submitted requests to host courses, there’s no realistic way the program will be anything more but a small scale operation competing with dozens of well established private sector programs offering cheaper, shorter courses with a known track record of student success.   They can’t sell enough t-shirts or mugs to break even.

In an era when major resources are being deployed by gun control groups, including weaponizing the media, corporations, banks and social media companies to suppress firearms related information and limit the abilities of firearms-related companies to operate, misuse of NRA funds for this failed program needs to stop. The resources should be diverted to the Training and Education program to improve or expand programs actually reaching large numbers of students, particularly new shooters that we need to grow the ranks of pro-gun voters, or given to NRA-ILA to support political action.

THURSDAY Pt 2

Thursday night I had the opportunity to dine with Michael Bane, producer of many shows for the Outdoor Channel, and other Down Range/Outdoor Channel folks.

I brought my old copy of John Shaw’s book “You Can’t Miss”, which Michael co-wrote, to Dallas, and managed to leave it in the car, failing in my quest to get it signed.

Ended the evening staying with Caleb and Lisa Causey at Lone Star Medics World HQ.

FRIDAY

I got there early Friday, anticipating bad traffic and difficulty parking, both of which occurred but not to the degree I expected.

I was able to spend the morning strolling the vendor floor with four longtime friends.  Two of them attended the Pence/Trump talk Friday afternoon.  I had to get back to College Station for a music gig and could not stick around after lunch.

My first purchase of the morning was a TUFF products iStow backpack – a clever product that’s a full size backpack that folds up into a small package about the size of a hardback book.  It was useful for wearing while browsing the floor but will also come in handy in my luggage for future trips.

Highlight of the morning was getting a copy of Bill Wilson’s “Gun Guy” book autographed by Bill.  His contributions to practical shooting and concealed carry, over the past 30+ years, has been significant. The book was co-written by Michael Bane, so now I have two books on my stack to get signed by Michael next time I see him.

Another product that caught my eye was the new RAPID car gun safe from Hornady.

This could be a useful product for those that can’t carry at work and need a secure place to put their gun inside the car.

The last thing I purchased was a discounted (show special) copy of LASR software. It uses a laptop and any laser-equipped pistol (like a SIRT pistol) to support many different kinds of dry fire practice.  I’ve been working on improving the dry fire/classroom materials we use in classes, and I’ll be setting up a dedicated laptop/webcam with the LASR software.

MEET AND GREETS

If you wanted to meet a pro competition shooter, industry legend, or social media celebrity, they were all at NRAAM.  Many vendors had meet and greet events at their booths with their sponsored stars.  I ended up with a signed “Pigman” hat by being at the Hornady booth at the right place and right time. I wasn’t familiar with his program, but getting the hat did motivate me to look him up.

SUMMARY

The 2019 NRA Annual Meeting will be in Indianapolis. If you live close to that area, or just have time and funds to go, I encourage you to attend. The annual meeting is one of the best things NRA does all year.