With the Indianapolis 500 race looming in a few weeks, the National Rifle Association found fast times of its own over the past weekend as the group wrapped up the NRA’s 148th annual meeting in downtown Indy.
Held from April 26-28, 2019 in the Midwestern city, the curtain officially came down on Monday after a weekend filled with high stakes political rhetoric, leadership drama, huge crowds and industry news.
While no official crowd estimate has been announced as of this writing, the group had entered its Indy meeting expecting more than 80,000+ to attend. In a location known for its frequent hosting of the annual Archery Trade Show, crowds were heavy all three days, but especially so on Saturday as tens of thousands crowded the aisles of the Indiana Convention Center to see what was new in the firearms industry and outdoors world.
On Friday morning, April 26, at the NRA Institute for Legislative Action meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium, President Donald Trump made another appearance, speaking to the packed house of the NRA-ILA event. The Indianapolis appearance marked the third straight year that Trump had done so, after his earlier speeches in Atlanta in 2017 and Dallas in 2018.
After his 2017 appearance saw Trump become the first sitting president to speak to the NRA group since Ronald Reagan in 1983, Trump continued to push forward the theme of his administration’s support of America’s Second Amendment rights.
After a cell phone was thrown onto the stage as Trump made his way to the platform, the nation’s chief executive received thunderous applause when he signed a formal letter to the U.S. Senate requesting that it stop the ratification of the UN Arms Trade Treaty signed under former President Barack Obama. Asking that the treaty be returned to the White House, Trump vowed to get rid of it as he eventually threw his pen to someone in the crowd.
“Under my administration, we will never surrender American sovereignty to anyone,” stated Trump in his speech. “We will never allow foreign bureaucrats to trample on your Second Amendment freedom. And that is why my administration will never ratify the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty.”
The President’s speech – whose full transcript was published in the local Indianapolis Star newspaper - was punctuated by personal appearances of three people who used their Second Amendment rights to protect themselves and others.
April Evans, whose home was invaded in 2015, spoke first about her personal defense efforts that protected her and her daughter until law enforcement authorities arrived on that fateful evening.
“Protecting my family would not be possible without the right to bear arms,” Evans said in her speech. “It's an issue that's obviously close to my heart. If these rights had been taken from us, I may not be standing here today and I may not have a healthy, now-six-year-old daughter.
“I'd like to thank you, Mr. President, for your unapologetic stance on our right to bear arms,” she added. “I truly believe those rights saved my life and the life of my daughter that night. Thank you.
Mark Vaughan, a part-time reserve sheriff’s deputy and owner of an Oklahoma meat processing plant, was next on the stage as he told of his personal defense actions in September 2014 when he used an AR-15 to stop a violent attack at his plant.
When the perpetrator – an employee at the time who was eventually sentenced to death by lethal injection after his conviction on a first-degree murder charge – began attacking employees with a butcher knife, Vaughan quickly responded.
“He was a determined attacker,” Vaughan said in his speech. “Unbeknownst to me, moments before, he had decapitated a coworker and had targeted several others in our operation to be attacked that day. I was able to take that action because I had a gun and I was prepared to use it. These are central missions of the NRA. And I thank you, NRA, for that, and everyone here.”
Finally, Stephen Willeford spoke to the group about his experiences in helping end the Sutherland Springs, Texas mass shooting in November 2017 when a shooter invaded the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church on a Sunday morning.
“He murdered 26 people and injured 20 more,” stated Willeford in his speech. “There were only seven people that walked out of that church without a gunshot wound. If it were not for our Second Amendment rights, and the right to carry an AR-15, the same style gun that he had, then I would have been outgunned myself. And if it were not for God covering me and protecting me, I would not have been successful that day.
“I want to thank the NRA for being relentless in protecting our Second Amendment rights,” Willeford added. “And I would like to thank this President for defending the Second Amendment.”
In addition to the President’s appearance on Friday at the NRA-ILA meeting, Vice President Mike Pence – the former governor of Indiana – spoke to the NRAAM for the second straight year, echoing Trump’s sentiments about standing against attempts to undermine America’s Second Amendment rights.
As the race to the White House in 2020 continues to pick up steam, Trump and Pence both assured the large crowds in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium that they would continue to support America's gun rights under the Second Amendment.
Following the rhetoric of Friday, controversy engulfed the NRAAM later that evening and early the next day as the rift between Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive VP since the early 1990s, and Lt. Col. Oliver North, the group’s president since 2018, boiled over.
On Saturday, April 27th, North announced by way of a letter – read by NASCAR racing legend Richard Childress – that he was not being allowed to return for reelection as the group’s president. The rift between the two NRA leaders set off a tidal wave of response and commentary with the story leading many national news outfits over the weekend.
After the weekend of controversy, the group enjoyed a busy final day on Sunday, April 28 as the events on the show floor wrapped up and crowds began to disperse. Then the NRA capped things on Monday with its official elections, appointing a new president and reupping the rest of its leadership in the wake of North’s dismissal.
The group reported in a press release that NRA Executive Vice President/CEO Wayne LaPierre was re-elected unanimously and unopposed by the NRA Board of Directors on Monday, April 29, 2019 as the meeting in Indianapolis wrapped up.
“United we stand,” said LaPierre in the press release. “The NRA Board of Directors, our leadership team, and our more than 5 million members will come together as never before in support of our country’s constitutional freedoms. The challenges ahead of us are our greatest opportunities—confronting our adversaries, defending the Association, and continuing our tradition as the greatest civil rights organization in the world.”
LaPierre added: “I am humbled by the Board’s vote of confidence and its support of my vision for the future. Together, we will continue to serve our members and advocate for all who believe in the fight to defend our Second Amendment freedom."
With the NRA noting that all its leadership was elected unanimously, and unopposed, other votes included: Chris W. Cox being re-appointed as Executive Director for the Institute for Legislative Action; Joseph De Bergalis, Jr. being voted as Executive Director, General Operations.; John Frazer voted as NRA Secretary/General Counsel; and Craig Spray voted as the group’s treasurer.
In the aftermath of North’s ouster, Carolyn Meadows was elected as the new president of the NRA. She was joined by Charles L. Cotton as the group’s first vice president and Willes Lee as its second vice president.
“I am honored to serve as President of the NRA Board and to help the organization chart its course for the future,” said Meadows, in the press release. “The Board stands behind Wayne, our members, and the promise of the future of this great Association.”
The leadership moves come after weekend news that New York Attorney General Letitia James had made good on her promise last year, launching an investigation into the NRA’s non-profit status. The NRA is incorporated in the state of New York.
With its 2019 visit to Indy now in the books, the group looks ahead to its 149th annual meeting next spring in Nashville, a gathering that promises plenty of news and rhetoric leading up to the presidential election in November 2020.
In the meantime, for new gear and product news coming from the floor of the NRA’s 148th annual meeting, visit Outdoor Sportsman Group platforms including OSG’s Guns & Ammo (Link: www.gunsandammo.com/show/nra-show/359190 ) and Game & Fish (Link: www.gameandfishmag.com/show/nra-show/359191 ).