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Trump/NRA Mutual Love Fest: Long on Promises, Short on Memory

Trump/NRA Mutual Love Fest: Long on Promises, Short on Memory

(Russ Vance/Shutterstock) 

“Every single Biden attack on gun owners and manufacturers will be terminated on my very first week back in office, perhaps my first day,” Donald Trump pledged to an on-its-feet, approval-roaring crowd attending NRA’s Presidential Forum at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg’s Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, Feb. 9.

The former president and -- legal challenges aside -- presumed GOP contender for the office in November, knew just which buttons to push to stoke the boundless enthusiasm of the thousands of supporters. They’d braved hours of standing in line to pass through the Secret Service checkpoints and finally gain access to the massive New Holland Arena. They wanted to hear what the man had to say, and he knew just what to say to them. I almost didn’t make it. I’d applied for press credentials and received them, only to be told that they were only good for the show, not the speech, and that decisions on forum admittance would be made later. That turned out to be the day before the event, necessitating dropping everything and getting in the car for a long drive and a late-night hotel arrival. The day of the event, the press was instructed to meet at one end of the huge complex to check in, pick up badges, and for those bringing in cameras and gear, preset equipment, which the Secret Service would check. Having just a note pad and a cell phone, that left me free to walk to the other end of the complex, pick up my show credentials, and walk the floor for several hours before having to return to the other side to gain admittance to the Trump speech.

I’ve been to a lot of gun shows and several NRA Annual Meetings, and GAOS dwarfs them all. It’s not just guns of course, it’s fishing, archery, and outdoor products, and even guns were divvied up between those for hunting/shooting sports and “self- defense” (they still aren’t ready to advocate for the militia). While there was no shortage of firearms of all kinds, it’s probably no coincidence that the official program ads were geared toward hunting, with nothing for “AR-style” rifles, and Friends of NRA’s “Gun of the Year Set” consisted of a Henry Big Boy lever action rifle and revolver. (At least it’s an improvement, after the previous organizer, Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, tried to ban “tactical rifles” a decade ago following the Sandy Hook murders, which led to a boycott, cancellation, and rebirth as GAOS under NRA management.)

Wending through the show, with its shoulder-to-shoulder attendance estimated to exceed 200,000, elicited several thoughts, not all of them consistent. First, no “anti-gun group” could put on events that consistently attract so many attendees, especially those willing to shell out money to gain admittance, and no “pro-gun group” but NRA has the resources to even come close to putting on such a show. Say what you will about them, NRA’s size allows it to do things no other group can, and that’s a powerful incentive for serious gun owners to gain control of how the Association influences the political and legal landscape, by voting out board members who were rubber stamps for Wayne LaPierre.

As the Firearms Coalition’s Jeff Knox notes, “Each year, the NRA sends out around 2.5 million ballots to Voting Members, but only about 5% of those are ever returned.” And that makes fair the question of how many GAOS attendees are active “gun rights” supporters, and how many are “Fudds,” some (many?) of whom even vote Democrat because of union loyalties and other priorities. It recalls for me when I was living in SoCal and the Great Western Gun Show (since forced out of California by Democrats) would draw in 40,000 visitors over a weekend, yet try to organize a pro-gun demonstration, of hold an NRA Members Council meeting to impact legislation, and a good attendance would be measured in dozens, a great one in hundreds.

So, even though NRA estimated they’d attract 8,000 to the Trump speech, that’s just 4% of GAOS’ attendance, and there were still patches of empty seat sections in the arena. We in the media were relegated to a designated enclosure from which we were not to wander, with news television cameras, anchors, and crew occupying a scaffolding at the front, and the rest of us seated behind that with no view of the stage and a limited view of one of the giant monitors for those of us who found a spot pressed against a steel barrier to the side. My only glimpse of Trump in person was when I could see through the scaffolding and the moving legs of the elevated press personnel to make out center stage a hundred yards away—I watched his speech and took notes from a monitor. (Note to self: Next time, forego media credentials and go in with the rest of the crowd – it’ll be a better seat and you’ll come back with photos.)

The buildup to the event was an example of mastery of crowd manipulation, starting with lights sending out rays against the darkness, loud pop music from decades back, and an excited announcement blaring from the speakers: “THE T-SHIRT GUY IS OUT! IF YOU WANT ONE, MAKE SOME NOISE!”

The crowd, as expected, motivated by swag and by lights, went wild as the man with the launcher traversed the aisles. 

There was a warm-up act musical act, the country duo War Hippies, combat veterans “Scooter Brown and Donnie Reis, warriors who believe in the American spirit, storytelling with a guitar and violin, promoting peace, love, and freedom.” As an aside, guys are good and they’re moving.

LaPierre loyalist and now “interim Executive VP” and “CEO” (he was called that, but the latter title is not recognized by the Bylaws) Andrew Arulanandam was politely received, with no blowback from the crowd over his part in supporting his former boss.

The NRA media guy took the stage and presented three videos to bolster the Association’s diversity and inclusion credentials, a man with a Hispanic name who emerged victorious from DGU and now teaches others, a black woman who teaches firearm safety and use to women, and a rabbi who promotes self-defense against antisemitism. Minority outreach is a worthwhile member recruitment goal, but the juxtaposition against a nearly all-white and majority male crowd, both at the show and at the forum, couldn’t be missed (and not just from the crowds, but among credentialed media, showing they don’t all practice the “equity” they preach).  And a question, before getting too excited about all the new gun owners “our side” is crowing about: How do they vote?

NRA President Charles Cotton spoke, referring to self-inflicted Association legal woes being exploited by New York Democrats. The cheering and applause were not as enthusiastic, but aside from one brief and uncommitted shout I heard coming from the fixed stadium seats, there were no catcalls or boos, suggesting NRA mismanagement was not hot on the minds of the crowd. 

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“I’ll never let you folks down,” Cotton recalled Trump promising, saying that “exemplifies who he is. If Donald Trump gives you his word, he will never go back on it… you have no greater friend than Donald Trump.”

It was time for the main event, and Cotton introduced Donald Trump, who came out to – is it a cliché to call thunderous applause “thunderous applause”? The arena was on its feet, attendees screaming with excitement, further and ironically inspired by the entrance accompaniment, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”  I say “ironically,” because the famous lyrics state, “And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.” Rights, as recognized by the Founders and by the Supreme Court, are preexisting, and Trump ignored a White House petition asking him to correct the site’s Bill of Rights explanation asserting “The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms."

“Right from the beginning, for four incredible years it was my honor to be the best friend gun owners have ever had in the White House, by far. Now I stand before you with a very simple promise: Your Second Amendment will always be safe with me as your president when I'm back in the Oval Office,” Trump promised to resulting exuberance. “No one will lay a finger on your firearms. It's not going to happen…” 

Trump pledged to end ATF “zero tolerance” harassment of FFLs, rescind the pistol brace rule, and replace Steve Dettelbach “with a director who respects the right to keep and bear arms,” without explaining how that last one is even possible. His previous nominee, “Chuck” Canterbury, when head of the Fraternal Order of Police, was against nationwide concealed carry and “assault weapons,” and for the confirmation of anti-gun Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. 

“Joe Biden and his thugs will do everything in their power to confiscate your guns and annihilate your God-given right to self-defense you have a right to self-defense you've always had that right,” Trump declared, contradicting Greenwood and his White House website. “During my four years, nothing happened and there was great pressure on me having to do with guns -- we did nothing, we didn't yield…”

In fact, Trump had his share of lapses, beginning with his “Presidential Memorandum on the Application of the Definition of Machinegun to ‘Bump Fire’ Stocks and Other Similar Devices,” leading ATF under his administration to implement a ban (after NRA opened the door by “calling on [ATF] to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law.  The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”

As for pistol braces, the act of empowering an agency to reclassify pieces of plastic as “machineguns” leaves open the door to do the same with semiautomatics, or to reclassify pistol stabilizing braces as “short barrel rifles.”

There was also his indifference to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to decry state level infringements reducing RKBA recognition to sub-foreign levels, and problematic statements, such as his “Take the guns first, go through due process second” response to “red flag laws,” and his speculation to raise the minimum age for all gun purchases to 21. And let’s not forget his 2019 interview with Piers Morgan where Trump admitted “I don’t like [silencers] at all and added he’d “like to think about” banning them.

A major part of Trump’s speech that really got the crowd worked up was when he segued into border security and the invasion of millions, something to date that NRA, and in fact all the major national and state “gun rights” groups have shown deliberate indifference to, lest the Democrats and their cheerleader “fake news” media condemn them as xenophobes and haters.

He was emphasizing a self-evident truth, recognized by forum attendees, but avoided by our “gun rights leaders with their phony “single issue” excuse, that bringing in millions of foreign nationals and putting them on a “pathway to citizenship” will result in overwhelming Democrat majorities who will eviscerate legal recognition of the right to keep and bear arms.

“When I'm president, instead of trying to send the state of Texas a restraining order, I will send them reinforcements,” Trump declared. “[W]ithin moments of my inauguration, we will begin the largest deportation operation in American history.”

The crowd exploded. You’d think NRA would read the room. Instead, we have it giving “A” grades and endorsing Republicans like Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, proclaiming he has “staunchly defended the Second Amendment freedoms of NRA members and law-abiding gun owners in Oklahoma and throughout the country.”

It’s true, Lankford has given some outstanding votes. But his “staunch support” for what some are calling the “Biden Border Surrender” bill will undo them. Per the Heritage Foundation, it would not “secure the border … defund sanctuary jurisdictions and Non-Governmental Organizations that have been facilitating the invasion,” would “codify crisis levels,” continue “catch and release,” expand “mass parole abuse,” and “encourage asylum fraud.”  It would not stop the Democrat “pathway to citizenship” push that, unless halted and reversed, will turn the country irretrievably Democrat and undo every single “good vote” Lankford has cast.

NRA needs to consider that when it urges its members to give politicians power, especially in the primaries.

There was plenty more Trump talked about, including another idea the crowd loved, “indemnifying police for taking strong action” and calling for the death penalty for drug dealers like they do in China. We could do another column on why blanket endorsement of LE’s who already have qualified immunity and haven’t shown an inclination to refuse citizen disarmament orders might not be in gun owners’ interests. Ditto for the corruption that the “War on Drugs” has enabled and the inadvisability of “zero tolerance laws,” especially when modeled after Beijing’s. “Law and order Republicans” need to be reminded that cages they help build will be used against them if controlled by a police state.

Stipulated, Donald Trump is better than Joe Biden. His Supreme Court nominees are a lot better than what the Democrats are going to offer. And we can’t ignore what a game changer the Bruen decision has been for Second Amendment legal advocacy, albeit the “blue” states keep throwing out infringements in hopes of the Republicans blowing the election, changing the composition of SCOTUS, and reversing it to allow for whatever bans they want. 

Lest anyone think he’s a shoo-in because Biden is so bad, don’t discount the potential for more voter fraud, and don’t forget that even at GAOS, not everyone in the exhibit halls was a supporter. Anti-gun Democrat majorities “own” the densely populated urban areas, and one more unignorable demographic threatens to keep Republicans out no matter how badly Biden screws everything up: Millions of women are furious with the Supreme Court’s decision to return abortion matters to the states and are willing to burn the house down to have that reversed.

Trump is what we’ve got, and if he doesn’t win, we’ll find out how serious the TINVOWOOT (There is No Voting Our Way Out of This) internet warriors really are about what their non-participation will force on the rest of us. At unimaginable cost.


If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.




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