DALLAS, Texas- As 75,000 people pass through the turnstiles at the 147th annual NRA conference at Dallas’ Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center this weekend, their numbers will match those expected in Indianapolis one year from now, even if the gun enthusiasts’ economic impact will fall short of the expected Hoosier payday.
Dallas convention officials estimate the NRA will have a $42.5 million effect on the local economy.
Indianapolis, in 2014, scored nearly $13 million more and is expecting even bigger returns in 2019 and 2023.
“The NRA is one of the top three conventions the city hosts,” said Chris Gahl, Senior Vice President of Visit Indy. “So as we look for next year, 2019, because they’ve grown in size and are taking up now more than a million square feet of meeting and exhibit space and are slated to have even more attendees, we would expect that $55 million to raise next year.”
The gun rights organization was so impressed with its last convention in Indianapolis four years ago that within six months it signed two simultaneous contracts to bring its annual conference back twice more in the coming decade.
“It's unprecedented that the NRA would come to the same city three times in this short amount of period in less than ten years,” said Gahl. “They know that Indiana is a state that is welcoming. It's widely known that one in three Indiana residents carries a firearm and so I think that is part of the reason why. They share with us that it’s a centrally-located crossroads of America, strong convention facilities and welcoming city as a whole.”
Dallas, deep in the heart of politically-red Texas, is expected to be just as welcoming even though the city’s Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway called on the NRA to take its convention elsewhere in the wake of the recent Parkland killings in Florida and groups such as MoveOn.Org and Everytown for Gun Safety have targeted the conference for protests during appearances by Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump Friday.
It's anticipated that so-called “Free Speech Zones” for dissenting points of view will be provided near the Dallas convention center in a concession that Gahl said is part of the NRA’s 2019 contract with its Indianapolis hosts.
“In the case of the NRA it's important to them and as a host city that we have a section of downtown where people can peacefully protest the NRA and their convening here, so right outside the front door of the convention center, as we did in 2014, we’ll have a peaceful protesting zone and that’s important to us and that’s important to the NRA.”
Local and state leaders and lawmakers who supported a recent anti-gun violence rally at the Indiana statehouse were asked whether the pending NRA convention a year from now provides Indianapolis and the state an opportunity for a soul searching conversation on what it means to own and carry guns in Indianapolis.
“An armed society is a polite society,” said Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, and the foremost author of expanded gun rights legislation in the General Assembly. “We hear the anti-gunners say the gun violence is horrible. Why would I as a lawmaker want to make innocent people defenseless in the face of people that don’t obey laws? To me that doesn’t make sense.”
“The last time the NRA was in town I sponsored the welcoming resolution which passed the council by a great majority and I think it's good to have the NRA folks in town,” said State Sen. Jack Sandlin, a Republican who represented Indianapolis’ south side on the City County Council in 2014. "They do a lot for youth shooting sports, they teach people how to properly use weapons, they bring revenues to town and, by the way, we don’t have any crime when they’re in town.”
Democrat Robyn Shackleford represents Indianapolis’ east side in the Statehouse.
Five times in January, IMPD homicide detectives visited her community to investigate killings committed by guns.
“I think this would be the perfect opportunity for not only our community leaders to sit down with the NRA but also allow the public to come in and sit down with the NRA,” she said. “We shouldn’t just be sitting on the side wall to be able to protest on the outside. We should be able to sit at the table with the NRA.”
“They’re interested in selling guns and, more importantly, they’re interested in selling their organization,” said Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis. “What’s really interesting is, will they engage in a debate? Will they allow their own members to express their varying views? Will they allow dissension within the organization? Will they back down on some of their extreme measures as a result of a conversation?”
Delaney said if Indianapolis is serious about a community-wide conversation that would include a town hall meeting, seminars and breakout sessions and inclusion of the faith based as well as medical communities along with residents, it’ll be up to Mayor Joe Hogsett to lead the way.
“That’s a good idea and we ought to be thinking about venues and forums for people here in our city who have a wide variety of different viewpoints about gun control issues,” said Hogsett. “And I certainly would encourage those conversations to take place.
“The people of Indianapolis will be assured the opportunity when the NRA convention is in town to have their voices be heard. As they always are whenever groups come to Indianapolis we always provide space so that those who may differ with the NRA have the opportunity to have their voices be heard, but what you’re proposing makes a lot of sense, and that is to have thoughtful and respectful conversations about where our state and country are going in respect with gun violence.”
The NRA announced that due to Secret Service restrictions, personal weapons, which attendees are legally allowed to carry on the floor of the convention, would be banned during the appearance of President Trump and Vice President Pence.
Trump and Pence both spoke to NRA supporters on Friday.