Indianapolis hosts the 2023 National Rifle Association convention with speakers including former President Donald Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and others

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Indianapolis hosted the National Rifle Association convention for the third year in a row April 14-16. The annual conference, held at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, drew an NRA-estimated attendance of more than 77,000 people, according to the Indianapolis Star. Speakers at the convention’s leadership forum on April 14 included former President Donald Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Ohio Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, according to the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum website. Video messages from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley and South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott also were shown at the forum.

Photo by: Mia Lehmkuhl | Opinion Editor

Indianapolis likes to build itself as a convention-friendly city, according to University of Indianapolis Associate Professor of Political Science Greg Shufeldt, and 2023 is the last year Indianapolis is under contractual obligation to host the NRA’s convention. Shufeldt said that with Indiana being considered a Republican state, and with most people likely being supporters of the Second Amendment, Indianapolis would be a favorable place to hold the convention. Shufeldt said the NRA’s featuring of speakers at the leadership forum such as former President Trump and former Vice President Pence highlights the importance of the NRA in the Republican party.

“As we think about the 2024 Republican primary, people might try to distinguish themselves between being more conservative or moderate,” Shufeldt said. “But every Republican that’s running for president is going to be there. There’s not a Republican [politician] that is speaking out against gun rights.” (The New York Times stated in an article that, “Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans support some restrictions on firearms, but G.O.P. lawmakers fear they would pay a steep political price for embracing them.”)

The convention began Friday, April 14, with the NRA Foundation’s Annual National Firearms Law Seminar, and continued through the NRA Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum at the end of the first day, according to the NRA convention schedule. Saturday, the second day of the convention, included more seminars and workshops, according to the schedule, as well as exhibit halls where different businesses showcased their products. The convention concluded on Sunday with a National Prayer Breakfast and more workshops and seminars. 

With high-profile speakers comes high-security precautions. The U.S. Secret Service required that all media representatives attending the NRA ILA Leadership Forum leave their equipment in Exhibit Hall A for a security sweep before going through additional security measures to regain access. The line to see the speakers spanned down the convention center, and soon the room was filled with thousands of NRA members and media representatives.

Gov. Eric Holcomb – IN

Holcomb discussed the State of Indiana’s infrastructure, state tax cuts through budgeting formulas and ways in which Indiana is a prominent supporter of the Second Amendment. Indiana hosts multiple outdoor recreational opportunities, Holcomb said, as well as the NRA National Marksmanship Competition. In 2024, Holcomb said, Indiana will host the World University Shooting Sport Championship.

Sen. Mike Braun – IN

Braun mentioned the Greenwood Park Mall shooting in Greenwood, Ind. last July 17, and the patron who shot the attacker while concealed carrying his firearm. The Biden-Harris Administration’s enacting a nationwide vaccination mandate for businesses down to 100 employees was an overreach, Braun said, that damaged the country during the pandemic. He said the federal government is trampling on the Constitution and attempting to replace the nuclear family, which he aims to work against.

Former Vice President Mike Pence

Pence spoke about the Trump-Pence administration’s four years in office and about the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. A conservative majority on the Supreme Court gave America the opportunity for the right to life, Pence said, and last June they ruled to eliminate the license requirement to carry concealed weapons in New York in the Bruen Decision. Under the current White House administration, attacks through gun violence are the products of a lack of crime control, Pence said, and that gun confiscation endangers lives. Shootings in the U.S. have resulted from a decline in mental health and a reduction in institutionalizing the mentally ill, Pence said. He said placing police resource officers in every public and private space in America would put a stop to the violence.

Former President Donald Trump

Trump said that releasing criminals and abolishing borders are part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s agenda, and interference is part of what the Democrats want for the upcoming election. Trump showed the audience the current Republican presidential candidate polls in different states (which were shown to be in his favor, according to InteractivePolls’ Twitter) and discussed his signing of the “Right to Try” law, which allows terminally ill patients to access experimental drugs. Three Supreme Court justices were confirmed under the Trump-Pence Administration, as were 300 federal judges, Trump said. He said Biden’s handling of classified documents, as well as 1,850 boxes of unaccounted for documents in Chinatown, revealed Biden obtained millions of dollars from China.  Trump said his plans for office include restoring safety to the nation from gang violence and increasing security in schools. He said the shooting that occurred in Nashville, Tenn., on March 27 was a result of the reduction in school security and a mental health, cultural, social and spiritual problem that could be offset by arming school teachers.” Part of his administration’s plan to address mental health in the country, Trump said, is to direct the FDA to create an independent, outside panel to examine transgender hormone therapy and whether its effects upon increases in depression, aggression and violence. Trump also said that genetically engineered cannabis and other narcotics are causing psychotic breaks. In closing, Trump discussed the damage done by the Biden-Harris Administration, which he said has caused the nation to decline, and how in 2024 the Trump Administration will make the country great again.

Overall, many of the speakers highlighted similar aspects in their platforms, including a heavy emphasis on mental health crises across the country and the need for American citizens to bear arms in order for other rights listed in the U.S. Constitution to be enforced. Ramaswamy mentioned tensions between China and Taiwan during his remarks, and named Chinese leader Xi Jinping directly to support his position.

“If you want to stop Xi Jinping from invading Taiwan, put a gun in every Taiwanese household and have them defend themselves,” Ramaswamy said during his remarks. “Let’s see what Xi Jinping does then. That’s what it means to be an actual American.” 

Paul Rak, a marketing consultant and lifetime NRA member, attended the convention with his wife and shed some light on why he attended the convention.

“I’ve been a member for probably 20 to 30 years,” Rak said, “and really, [we came] because it was in the area. We’re from Illinois and just hadn’t been able to come out in a number of years. So I just thought it would be interesting. And [my wife] really wanted to see Trump.”

Rak said that he believes gun owners have a right to self-defense and that he felt comfortable at the NRA convention because he was around people who know what they are doing. He also mentioned the Greenwood Park Mall shooting that occurred this past July.

“… It [comes] back to some people doing violence and so forth,” Rak said. “[In] Indiana, I think…, sometime within the last year, there was a shooting in a mall. And guns were not supposed to be there. But there was a good guy with a gun who stopped the perpetrator.”

Protesters during the conference were present across from the convention center. Retirees Kerry Worthington and Elizabeth McQuinn were among the protesters. Worthington said that what brought him to the convention was his anti-AR-15 beliefs and opinion that people should have permits to carry firearms.

“We think you have to have a permit,” Worthington said. “You have to have a permit to drive a car. . . . You can’t lease a car at 25, [but] you can buy an AR-15 at 18. And you think that makes sense?”

McQuinn said what brought her to the convention center was that she was offended by the Indiana General Assembly being used as a platform to publicize the NRA, when the assembly passed a special resolution to honor the NRA and its Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. 

“It’s a poorly run organization,” McQuinn said. “And to think that our statehouse, dominated by the Republican supermajority, would do that, I think, is unconscionable.”

Shufeldt said that having the convention in Indianapolis provided an opportunity for students who might not like Indianapolis’ hosting the NRA, in light of recent shootings, to take part in interest groups and organizations opposed to the association. He said that for those who support the NRA and the Second Amendment, the convention was likely a good sign and an opportunity to get involved and learn more about the organization.

“Gun laws change pretty quickly,” Shufeldt said. “And . . . not all of our students are Hoosier residents. I would encourage students to be mindful of what gun laws are in their home state, realizing that they change from state to state. So if you do carry a firearm, be mindful of that if you’re going back and forth. Likewise, if you don’t like the laws in your home state. . . state governments have some power to do something about it and other state governments might be more responsive than ours.”

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