by Marty Hayes, J.D.
The 2017 National Rifle Association Annual Meeting was by far the most interesting I have attended. I started attending the annual meetings in 2009 in Phoenix, when Network V.P. Vincent Shuck, Network member Bill Van Tuyl and I took turns manning a booth. Our mission was to introduce the Network to potential members, and of course, recruit as many members as possible. I know we signed up a few members, but honestly, the return on investment was pretty slim. Having said that, we did sign up enough members to keep our spirits high during those formative years, and if you are one of those first Phoenix meeting members, I want you to know that I really appreciate your long-term commitment.
That’s enough about the past; let’s talk about this year. A week before the 2017 NRA Annual Meeting, we heard that one of our competitors, United States Concealed Carry Association (an organization which started a competing product a couple years after we started the Network) had their participation in this year’s meeting cancelled. This story broke in the form of a press release from USCCA President Tim Schmidt, who said, among other things, that the USCCA had been disinvited from the show. He said he had received a certified letter returning his check. He did not share the details of the letter.
As we were packing for the show, it was also being said on the Internet that another competitor, Second Call Defense, was disinvited, too. This was confirmed when Second Call, which has had a booth at the show for the past few years, did not have one this year, despite having been listed in the show program. Later, I had the chance to visit with the Second Call President Sean Maloney, who is both an attorney and an NRA board member. His company did in fact get disinvited, despite having been an advertiser in the NRA publications. He did not elaborate, but I appreciated his frankness with me. In fact, probably one of the bright spots of the meeting was getting to know Sean a little better, and learning that he is a pretty good guy. A competitor yes, but an honest one.
Where Does That Leave the Network?
Despite the intrigue surrounding the competitors’ disinvitations, this issue did not affect the Network. We displayed our booth as normal and at the end I left the show floor feeling very positive about the future. The Network’s leaders have always strongly supported the NRA, and the Network even served as an NRA membership recruiter at one time. We have been a NRA Business Alliance member for a number of years, and the three owners of the Network are all life members of the NRA. Now, though, with this new program we have some concerns about our relationship with the NRA.
Needing to know the facts, I changed my return flight plans and decided to stay an extra day in Atlanta, in order to attend the NRA Board of Directors meeting. I am glad I did, because I got a different perspective, one I would like to share with you.
2017 NRA Board of Directors Meeting
I had never attended an NRA Board of Directors meeting, which meant I didn’t know what to expect. When I arrived in the meeting room, I saw the space divided into two sections. The elected and appointed officers would sit on the podium at the front of the room, and the 100 NRA Board Members would sit at several rows of tables and chairs also in the front of the room. I immediately noticed Col. Allen West standing near his chair at the back of this forward section, and easily accessible to me. I walked up to him and asked to shake his hand and to thank him for the work he does. In my opinion, Col. West is a true patriot, and I sure wish he would ascend to a higher position in the NRA or in national politics. I would have gotten a picture with him, but cameras were not allowed in the meeting hall.
The second part of the room was the area where the NRA members were welcome to sit, and by the time the meeting started, about 150 of the chairs were filled. The meeting was very well organized, and after listening to the NRA leadership discuss NRA business for three hours, I came away with a better understanding of why the NRA has started the NRA Carry Guard program. Executive Vice-President Wayne La Pierre discussed the new program at length. I left the meeting firmly believing that the NRA’s decision to compete in the self-defense aftermath plan market is primarily a financial one. La Pierre explained that there are 15 million concealed carry practitioners, and over five million NRA members. He stressed the need to increase revenue for the NRA, in order to fight the political fight for the Second Amendment, and he was candid that the NRA expects to make a lot of money off this program. That left me cold.
Don’t Be Fooled by the Pretty Face
The NRA is putting on a strong advertising campaign for their Carry Guard program, using Dana Loesch as the face of the program. She IS pretty, and wears the T-shirt well, but what does she know about defending people who have been wrongfully charged in a self-defense incident? In fact, their whole program is dramatically light on education regarding armed self defense, a topic that has led the efforts of the Network since we started it. If you dig deep enough in their promotional material, you see some other fairly well-recognized names endorsing NRA Carry Guard. Please understand that these people are getting PAID pretty good money just to say they endorse it. And, as I see it, they are for the most part, endorsing the training component of NRA Carry Guard, not necessary the legal defense insurance.
About That Legal Defense Aspect?
NRA Carry Guard is NOT what the average armed citizen needs after a self-defense incident. That is because the legal defense component will NOT fund your legal defense UP-FRONT when you need it most, but instead reimburses you after acquittal. Where will you get the $50,000 to $100,000 (or more) to fight the legal fight? With the Network, we will supply that money for you. But the NRA Carry Guard program does not.
But, aside from the news that the Network has a new competitor, I also was able to listen to the NRA leaderships’ speeches about the last year, and how the NRA has made great contributions to the election of Donald J. Trump, and what that means for the immediate future of our gun rights. To an extent, that offsets the feeling of being socked in the gut by the NRA with the introduction of Carry Guard.
Now, please understand that Gila, Vincent and I as the leadership of the Network are not afraid of this new competitor. We have grown every single month of every year since we started the Network, despite all the new competition coming on board over the years and we are not going to let another competitor scare us. What we are doing, is doubling down on raising money for our Legal Defense Fund, continuing to work with our affiliates to help them help us grow the Network, and of course, continuing to respond to our members’ concerns and assist them whenever we can.
My Open Letter to Wayne La Pierre
It would have been more politically correct for me to have not written and published my open letter, but I have never been one to keep my beliefs to myself when I believe my friends, associates, family or I were wronged. Make no mistake, I firmly believe the NRA has done wrong in deviating from their mission of protecting the Second Amendment and teaching responsible and safe gun use, by competing directly in the post incident support market.
What lies ahead in the firearms industry? I can foresee NRA branded holsters, guns, and even NRA ammo in the near future, as there is decent profit to be made in these facets of the industry. If that happens, the NRA will disenfranchise even more strong supporters of the NRA. Perhaps they should open a gun parts supply house like Midway USA or Brownell’s, or even start up their own chain of retail stores, to compete with Cabela’s! Where will it end? I said what I said, and I mean every word. I hope that doesn’t cost the Network members, but if it does, then so be it.
My best memory of the Atlanta NRA Annual Meeting is of the hundreds of members who stopped by our booth and just said hello. It seemed just when visits to the booth were slowing down to give us a little break, we had another member or two come up and say hi. So much goodness. At this writing, we have 13,000 members in the Network and growing each month, so there were lots of our members to come by our booth! It will be interesting to see where we are this time next year.
To read more of this month's journal, please click here.