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by Gila Hayes

Our Network team is back from the yearly trek to the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting, an event we began attending in 2009 because it introduced us to fellow armed citizens who shared our concern about the legal aftermath of using force in self defense. For many years, even when the NRA aggressively began selling insurance to compete with the Network’s member assistance program, we continued to attend the Annual Meetings, and paid to have a booth in the exhibit hall. It was expensive, but we benefited from the face-to-face conversations with long-term members and appreciated the opportunity to enroll new members.

Attendance at the first annual meeting we went to in Phoenix reportedly exceeded 60,000 and the highest attendance reported was in 2018 in Dallas, where over 87,000 were said to attend. I was part of the Network team attending the 2018 show, and I can attest that at the end of a day in the exhibit booth, we often felt we had met a goodly percentage of those 87,000 attendees and if they didn’t stop by our exhibit, we’d rubbed shoulders pushing through the packed lobby, in the jammed aisles and queued up by the hundreds to buy lunch at midday!

Fast forward to 2024, where, as exhibitors, we walked unimpeded through the lobby and into the exhibition hall shortly before opening time, walked empty aisles en route to the restrooms, or when we went to buy lunch for our staff. The drop off in attendance in 2024 was alarming! Ironically, the sales pitches to sign up exhibitors for the April 25-27, 2025 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA are already piling up.

I am astonished see claims that more than 72,000 NRA members attended the 2024 Annual Meeting. Like others exhibiting at the 2024 event, along with gun media, bloggers and commentators, we cannot resolve the empty exhibit hall aisles we encountered against NRA claims of 72,000 attendees. As the NRA tries to survive the LaPierre corruption conviction, lying about attendance is a horrible decision.

More Than Charts and Colorful Graphs

Early last month, a Network member wrote that our website was inadequate compared to competitors’ because we don’t sell our services in at-a-glance charts, schedules, lists of exclusions and stated limits on our assistance to members. He’s right, we don’t.

The Network wants members who will invest the time to study the issues involved in the legal defense of self defense, not surface thinkers who scan bullet-points and charts on which assistance is distilled into several words and a green check box or a big red X if not offered. Instead, the Network wants members who will absorb the hours of video instruction on use of force that we provide, who will read this monthly journal, who independently pursue their continuing education by attending training beyond the basic permit-level requirements.

The complaint highlighted the extreme difference between competitors selling self-defense insurance and the Network’s supportive membership organization of like-minded men and women joined together to assure that none of our fellow Network members are harmed in the courts after defending themselves or their families. Our individual concerns are mirrored in high-profile cases like the prosecution of George Zimmerman, Kyle Rittenhouse, and when police line of duty shootings go to trial.

The Network was created, grew and developed over the past 15 years, and today continues to pay the legal expenses members face after use of force in self defense. Funding starts as soon as possible after self defense when an attorney, investigators and experts most effectively prevent criminal charges and discourage civil litigation. The speedy representation of armed citizens who are trained in justifiable use of force in self defense works! Though several have come close, none of our members have yet gone to trial. Charges are not brought, are dropped, or in a few instances reduced to a favorable plea voluntarily accepted. Some of those pre-trial fights were expensive, but they cost less in emotional damage to members and their families and the expenses of going to trial were less than extended litigation that can arise when facts and evidence of solid self-defense decisions aren’t clarified and emphasized as strongly as possible and as soon as possible after self defense.

The Network focuses on the big dollar expenses that without post-self-defense support, armed citizens who’ve lost at trial when tried for doing nothing more than defending themselves and their families have lacked. We focus on the big concerns and do not subject members to arbitrary exclusions or try to draw attention away from weaknesses by throwing in a dozen distractions like crime scene clean up, or your own personal benefits coordinator. It is all too easy to be distracted from issues like having the freedom to choose the best attorney to defend you or having to pay back the insurance company if you accept a favorable plea offer, as is the harsh reality with several of the Network’s more aggressive competitors.

Online research is a great boon, but Internet-users want complex topics chewed up, pre-digested and distilled on charts, outlines or bullet point lists. It is risky to believe we have a full understanding of a complex, multi-faceted concern based on a chart of check boxes, single words or short phrases. Here’s a big thank you to our Network members who understand that serious matters require serious study, and what is more serious than training and understanding when you may choose to use deadly force – potentially to kill a person – in defense of yourself or your family.

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