NRA convention starts Friday in Indianapolis

The NRA Convention is in Indianapolis this week.
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The National Rifle Association will hold its annual national convention downtown this weekend, bringing record crowds and income to the city.

It's hard to miss the banners and signs outside the Convention Center. The NRA will occupy nine acres with guns and gear.

NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen said, "I know the membership is excited to come here and the organization itself. We're all here busy getting things set up."

The NRA convention, which officially kicks off Friday morning, will be one of the biggest in city history. It's expected to draw 70,000 people downtown, pumping $55 million into the local economy.

Visit Indy's Chris Gahl said, "This is truly a citywide convention with nearly every single hotel room sold out downtown. It will be tough to get hotel rooms and restaurants will be packed."

Visit Indy started courting the NRA more than ten years ago - in 2003.  Seven years after that, in 2010, the organization actually signed on with Indianapolis, meaning 70-thousand of its members will flood the city, generating an estimated $55-million in economic impact.

Mortensen said a big draw "is how centrally located Indianapolis is." She said you can "drive four hours from Indianapolis and reach one million of our five million members."

As Visit Indy's Chris Gahl noted, the three-day event will "monopolize nearly every square inch of the Convention Center" and Lucas Oil Stadium.

But, city leaders say none of this would have been possible if it weren't for the massive expansion to the Convention Center several years ago.  The main expanded exhibition hall - formally the old RCA Dome - will host a trade show with 700 exhibitors. The trade show is always a big draw for convention attendees anxious to get a look at the newest products, firearms and services.  

City leaders say the NRA convention is also an audition for future opportunities.

Gahl said the NRA effort took "four years of planning, a lot of hard work and preparation physically in getting the city sparkling and ready for such a sizable event. We'd certainly like to have the NRA back. We're aggressively looking at future years to see how can we prove this year that Indianapolis is a viable city and invite them back for future years." 

Gahl also says hotels downtown are booked and hotels in the suburban areas are filling up fast.  This is what he calls a true citywide conference with many downtown venues hosting events. 

The group will host seminars, meetings and a Stand Up and Fight Rally and concert featuring the musical group Alabama.

But for the gun rights group, it's more than a convention. It's a call to action. Mortensen said members will hear from several politicians eyed as possible presidential hopefuls. They'll also hear from the NRA leadership "on the lay of the land" and the upcoming 2014 elections.

"They'll be speaking about what legislation we support and what needs to be done to protect our second amendment rights," she said.

Gun rights enthusiasts aren't the only ones headed to Indianapolis for the convention.

Carmel resident Nicki McNally said, "We have people coming from all over the country - California, Texas, New York.

Nicki McNally is with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. It's a grass-roots group founded by former Carmel resident Shannon Watts to push for tougher gun laws following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

It's since joined Everytown for Gun Safety, a group former New York city Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged $50 million to for a "get out the vote" campaign in support of stricter gun-control laws.

McNally said at least 100 moms and 20 survivors of gun violence plan to get their message out as well this weekend, though the plans on when and where are still being finalized.

McNally said the group will be rallying the NRA to support "stronger background checks," beyond the National Instant Background system, which Mortensen said the NRA wants to see expanded.

McNally said that system doesn't cover guns sold at gun shows, over the Internet or through private sales.

Mortensen said the NRA expects and welcomes different points of view, noting "there will be a special area for anyone who wants to demonstrate against the Second Amendment."

In response, McNally said, "We are not anti-Second Amendment. and we have no issue with general membership of the NRA. We want to see common sense, common ground things like background checks that we know saves lives."

Besides demonstrators, the convention will also bring the national media to Indianapolis. Mortensen said so far, 400 media members had been credentialed.

She said events will be limited to NRA members, but the general public can attend most events provided they buy an associate membership for $10.

(Eyewitness News reporter Carrie Cline also contributed to this report.)