NRA to mix politics with gun rights at Indianapolis convention

The National Rifle Assn. is preparing to kick off its annual convention Friday in Indianapolis, where it will mix politics with advocacy for 2nd Amendment issues, including one of its longtime goals: a national reciprocity law that would allow gun owners to carry licensed weapons across state lines.

Efforts to pass such a law have failed in the past. That it is on the agenda less than two years after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is evidence of the NRA’s resilience as well as its ability to bounce back from a low point.

The convention is expected to draw 70,000 people and to infuse an estimated $55 million into the Indianapolis economy.

Calls for tougher gun control laws echoed across the nation after Adam Lanza walked into the Connecticut elementary school in December 2012 and opened fire, killing 20 children and six educators before killing himself. He had also killed his mother.

Some states, including New York, Maryland, Connecticut and Colorado, passed some restrictions, but the broad sweep of controls including a national ban on automatic weapons and increased background checks largely fell by the wayside.

If anything, the NRA seems politically stronger in this midterm election year, when Republicans tend to be more diligent about voting than Democrats. Republicans have a chance to wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats.

Among the convention's expected participants are national GOP hopefuls Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the host official, has backed gun rights in the past.

NRA officials will brief its members on the upcoming elections and talk about the organization's goals, spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen told reporters in Indianapolis. 

“They'll be speaking about what legislation we support and what needs to be done to protect our 2nd Amendment rights,” she said.

The organization is coming off a big win in Georgia where, on Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal signed a wide-ranging gun measure that critics call the “guns everywhere bill.” The legislation permits Georgia residents with concealed carry permits to take their guns into some bars, churches, school zones and even government buildings.

Hundreds of people filled more than 25 picnic tables to watch Deal sign the bill into law. Many were openly carrying handguns and some wore NRA hats and buttons proclaiming, “Stop Gun Control” and “Guns Save Lives.”

In the past, the NRA has worked to get a national reciprocity bill, allowing guns that are licensed by one state to be legally carried across state lines. At present, the laws are a patchwork quilt, with about 40 states allowing some form of reciprocity.

In 2011, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives approved the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, intended to allow gun owners to travel more easily from state to state without worrying about whether their permit to carry a concealed weapon is valid. The legislation had bipartisan support, passing 272-154, with 229 Republicans and 43 Democrats voting yes.

But since the Senate was not going to take up the measure, the House action was essentially a show vote for lawmakers seeking to curry favor with the NRA and other gun rights advocates.

A similar measure failed in 2009 in the Democratic-led Senate, with a 58-39 vote that, although a majority, feel short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. The closeness of that vote highlighted the power of the NRA, with its 5 million members, to pressure both parties on gun issues.

Opponents fear that a national reciprocity measure would allow more lenient gun regulations to drive out stricter ones. A gun owner could get a permit in one of the looser states and bring his weapon into a state with tougher licensing requirements.

“It's a race to the bottom,” Brian Malte, senior national policy director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told reporters. “It's taking the lowest standards.”

The NRA can expect counter-demonstrators in Indianapolis. Gun-control efforts received a boost when former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced that he would donate $50 million to a new umbrella group, Everytown for Gun Safety.

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