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Reflections from the NRA Convention

It’s been 20 years since I last paid for a National Rifle Association membership.

As a lifelong gun owner, I used to be a proud member of the organization. At the time, I appreciated the information and resources it provided to hunters and gun owners like myself. But I’m sick of the senseless gun violence that is turning our neighborhoods, shopping centers, and schools into killing fields. 

As gun violence has increased, the NRA has increasingly aligned itself with extreme right-wing views, causing fractures within the organization. While it claims to promote responsible gun ownership, the NRA has aggressively marketed military-style weapons to young men, promoting a distorted view of masculinity. This stance has alienated many members, leading to significant defections.

Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve paid for an NRA membership—but when the organization came to my home state for its annual convention, I decided it was time to check it out again. The entry fee was $35 and included a membership whether you wanted it or not. I was curious to see for myself, without the pundits filtering and spinning all the information, how the NRA had evolved over the past few decades.

To no one’s surprise, the NRA is as extremist and dangerous behind the curtain as it is to the general public. Beneath its veneer of “democracy” and “freedom” runs a dark current of fear, anger, and hate. 

The crowd is as you would expect: primarily white men. I went the day before Trump spoke and found myself surrounded by a mostly 65 and older crowd. A few were proudly wearing firearms on their hips as they browsed through the displays. Meanwhile, the younger attendees appeared to be far more interested in handling the “cool” hardware instead of actually buying a weapon. 

Compared to prior years, the convention stopped short of openly targeting extremists. Yet, the broader gun industry continues to employ marketing strategies steeped in misogyny, racism, and extremism to rake in massive profits. Young men in particular are often targeted through popular video games that glorify military weapons and media that plays into toxic masculinity.  

At the surface level, the convention initially appeared just like any other trade show, featuring a variety of products, everything from fine jewelry to garden tractors. Closer examination revealed a different story. Endless aisles of handguns and assault-style weapons took up a majority of the space. These are guns primarily designed to kill as many humans as quickly as possible—and watching companies market them to the everyday citizen turned my stomach. There were easily enough tactical weapons on display to arm a small country. 

Amidst this arsenal, the traditional rifles and shotguns that had once been the highlight of these shows—including the rare works of art in blued steel and fine wood that make you stop and appreciate the craftsmanship—were scarce. 

One vendor selling assault shotguns caught my eye—the guns included a 12-gauge with a 25-shell banana clip. As anyone who knows guns can recognize, these were clearly not designed for hunting quail or pheasant. Behind the seller hung a now-ironic poster of Donald Trump armed with a similar weapon—one he legally can’t own or possess as a convicted felon. 

Beyond the tables and tables of guns were accessories—everything from tactical gear and basic gun parts to bunkers advertised to protect users from nuclear attacks and civil unrest. There were magnets that let users attach a handgun to their car dashboard, and even armored t-shirts—I can’t begin to imagine the situations where those would come in handy. 

My favorite accessory was a small gun safe that was inscribed with a quote from the Bible, Exodus 22:2. It read “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.

Conveniently, they forgot to include the next line: “But if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed.


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This, in a nutshell, is what angers me so much about the NRA. Its entire approach to the issue of gun violence in America is a masterful marketing strategy soaked in mythology, half-truths, and misguided patriotism. It was intentionally designed like this for one reason: to sell more firearms and increase the corporate coffers of those who make them. 

The NRA doesn’t care at all about the tens of thousands of Americans—friends, family, neighbors, children—whose lives are cut short because of gun violence. Because of gun violence the NRA in part stokes, without facing any consequences.

Responsible gun owners know that the NRA doesn’t speak for us. We know that commonsense gun laws, like secure storage and background checks, go hand-in-hand with our Second Amendment rights.

Let’s be honest: The NRA doesn’t care at all about your freedom, or mine. Which is why, when it arrives, I’ll be tearing up my new membership card.