- The Washington Times - Friday, April 15, 2005

The National Rifle Association arrived in Houston yesterday for its annual convention, and even by Texas standards, it is big, spirited and totes plenty of political and patriotic firepower.

“We did not sweat and fight and struggle for 25 years to take back our Second Amendment to back off even one bit,” said NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre during opening ceremonies at the George L. Brown Convention Center yesterday. He called the enthusiastic crowd “a room full of patriots.”

The numbers tell all about this robust event: There are 60,000 attendees, 450 exhibits, 300 journalists, eight sold-out hotels and $20 million revenue for the host city.

“God bless the NRA,” whooped camouflage-clad rock musician and gun aficionado Ted Nugent, who punctuated the opening moments with a heavy-metal version of “The Star Spangled Banner” on a red, white and blue guitar.

Today, in fact, Mr. Nugent leads a forum entitled “God, Guns and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which he described as an homage to “the American dream and the Second Amendment.”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay — himself from Sugar Land, some 20 miles southwest of Houston — is the keynote speaker at tonight’s big banquet.

The meeting — a showcase for firearms, camaraderie and pivotal issues — was bustling from the get-go.

“This place looks like a million bucks — just the sheer size of it. Five acres of guns and gear. Huge. Enormous,” said Cam Edwards, host of the NRA’s daily radio show, from his perch above the convention floor.

“Look there. I can see Browning, Winchester, Smith & Wesson, Colt and Beretta too,” Mr. Edwards continued, scanning the burgeoning display booths of leading gun makers.

The NRA’s public image might be right on target these days. According to a Gallup poll released yesterday, the 4 million-member organization appeals to the majority of the country. Six out of 10 Americans say they view the group positively, according to the poll of 1,010 adults, conducted April 4-7.

“Favorable impressions of the NRA go beyond gun owners. The current 60 percent favorable rating is much higher than the 40 percent of Americans who told Gallup they have a gun in their home,” Gallup analyst Lydia Saad noted.

This is the highest favorable rating the NRA has received since Gallup began tracking the group in 1993, when it garnered a 55 percent approval.

Activities are diverse and imaginative. There will be a sportsman’s prayer breakfast featuring Thomas Hamill, a civilian contractor in Iraq who was shot by insurgent abductors and held captive for 24 days before escaping.

There will be a ladies luncheon and auction, a family-friendly air-rifle range, political workshops and how-to clinics in “cowboy action” shooting and firearms safety. Former “Dallas” actress and NRA board member Susan Howard will discuss the organization’s complex relationship with the press.

Much of this weekend’s meeting — including Mr. DeLay’s speech — can be viewed live via the Internet at the organization’s Web site (www.nranews.com/nra.html).

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