Jeff Swiatek, The Indianapolis Star 4:20 p.m. EST January 21, 2014Story Highlights
INDIANAPOLIS — Tourism officials expect to host one of the largest conventions in city history this April when more than 70,000 National Rifle Association members arrive for three days of gun-rights strategizing, country music and one of the nation's largest gun and ammo exhibits
Visit Indy, the city's tourism arm, normally promotes its convention bookings. But it has yet to publicize the NRA gathering — an event that in other cities has sparked public protests, tight police security and calls to go elsewhere.
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Visit Indy and the NRA wanted to announce the April 25-27 Indianapolis convention in 2010 when it was booked but couldn't get all top officials of both groups together to do it, Visit Indy spokesman Chris Gahl said. Once that initial announcement didn't happen, Visit Indy tried several times to get clear direction from the NRA on when to announce the convention.
Finally, late last year the NRA suggested sending out a public release in early February, Gahl said.
Visit Indy went along with the NRA's wishes for timing an announcement because "they're the customer," he said. "It's up to the convention ... as to when they want something public."
Although Visit Indy has made no announcement of the convention's coming, the NRA has promoted the convention to its members.
“Indiana has always been a strong defender and support of our Second Amendment right to bear arms. ”— Johnny Nugent, state senator and NRA board member
The Fairfax, Va.-based group, known for its political clout on gun-rights issues, expects more than 70,000 members here. Last year the NRA drew a record 86,000 members to its meeting in Houston, where dozens of protesters showed up and convention bloggers reported a very visible police presence in and outside the Houston convention center.
The NRA's director of public affairs, Andrew Arulanandam, said the group's standard policy is to send out a national news release about its annual convention a few months ahead, but host cities often announce the coming of the convention years in advance.
Visit Indy could have done that if it wanted, he said.
"That would have been fine by us," Arulanandam said.
The city of Nashville, Tenn., which will host the NRA annual convention in 2015, publicly announced that in 2010.
Arulanandam said he told Visit Indy last year that the NRA would send out a national media advisory in early February about the Indianapolis convention.
"Perhaps they (Visit Indy) thought that was when we wanted to do the announcement," he said.
Gahl said Visit Indy notified hotels, restaurants, Mayor Greg Ballard's office and others about the NRA convention years ago so they could prepare for the thousands of visitors.
The 143rd NRA annual meeting will use most of the space in the Indiana Convention Center, spill over into Lucas Oil Stadium for two nights and book almost every hotel room downtown and thousands of other rooms around the city. Visitors will spend an estimated $55 million. That compares with $49 million in anticipated spending from gaming convention Gen Con, which happens Aug. 14 to 17.
Gen Con reported attendance of more than 49,000 last year. And in 2011, Black Expo released figures listing attendance at more than 240,000.
A young protester holds a sign during a demonstration in favor of gun regulation outside the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting in Houston.(Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)
The NRA convention will draw more than 600 exhibitors, feature celebrity meet-and-greets, educational seminars and hunting and fishing displays. A "stand and fight rally" at Lucas Oil will feature the country group Alabama, and Joe Nichols and Jerrod Niemann will perform at Crane Bay Event Center Downtown.
The NRA said that 81% of those attending its 2013 meeting in Houston were male and nearly 60%t were hunters; 43% traveled more than 200 miles to attend.
Indiana state Sen. Johnny Nugent, a Republican from Lawrenceburg and the only Indiana resident on the NRA's 75-member board of directors, said the convention is "just about the best convention that could possibly come to any city."
"Indiana has always been a strong defender and support of our Second Amendment right to bear arms. The NRA will feel very welcome in holding their convention in a state that feels so strongly about it," said Nugent, who in 2009 introduced a bill that would have prohibited Indiana public colleges and universities from banning firearms on campuses.
On Tuesday, a gunman killed a person at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. He turned himself in to authorities after the shooting.
Shannon Watts, a Zionsville, Ind., mother who founded the gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said she hopes that NRA leadership will find out while they are in Indianapolis that many Indiana residents favor tighter controls on guns, including stricter background checks on gun buyers.
"It's time for NRA leadership to stand with responsible gun owners and its own members instead of gun manufacturers and lobbyists who profit from easy access to firearms," Watts said in an e-mail. "It's (NRA Chief Executive) Wayne LaPierre and the other NRA leadership who need some Hoosier sensibility, which we hope they'll get while they're in the Heartland."
Contributing: Bill McCleery, The Indianapolis Star
NRA members listen to speakers during the NRA Annual Meeting on May 4, 2013, in Houston.(Photo: Johnny Hanson, AP)