…Plus me makes for 86,228 friends hanging out at the record-breaking 142nd NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Houston, Texas.  This was my fourth “NRA Show,” as it is often referred to, and it could not have been better.  I almost didn’t go, but I could not fight off the feeling that this one was going to be special, and I decided that I needed to be there.

I was not disappointed.  This one was different, and not just because of the numbers.  There was a new energy, a new enthusiasm.  I also figured something out, and while perhaps not exactly an epiphany, it was at least a revelation…of something that I really already knew.  This event is not special because of the hardware on display, it is special because of the people.

A crowded show floor

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a gun guy.  There are some vendors from the show who are dedicating their post-show cleanup to wiping my drool off of their guns and gear.  But at the end of a long day on the show floor, I am always taken back to my encounters with the people of the National Rifle Association.

You should also understand that I am not naturally an extrovert.  I have always been the quiet guy, not normally very comfortable in a large public gathering, surrounded by strangers.  But at this event, I always feel different, and I think I know why.  There are no strangers here.  I feel completely at ease.  These are my people, and I want to talk to them.

And I did talk to them and gathered more stories and experiences that I can relate here.  I met those who make and sell the product.  I met professional shooting celebrities and media personalities.  I met a retired Navy veteran from Knoxville, Tennessee…and a young couple from Plano, Texas.  I talked pistol selection with a middle-aged housewife at the Ruger booth.  All of them were just friends I hadn’t yet met.

So let’s take a lesson here.  There were people from just about any demographic you can imagine, and we were all of one family in that building.  There is strength in that family, and we must sustain it now that the 142nd NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits have concluded.  All of our differences are insignificant when compared to the things we have in common, an enjoyment of firearms and the shooting sports…and an unashamed love of freedom.

I had the chance to speak briefly with NRA News commentator Dom Raso, and asked him why he chose to speak out and become an advocate for the 2nd Amendment.  His answer was simple:  “It isn’t just about guns.  It’s about freedom.”  And no matter who else I talked to over the weekend, freedom was a consistent theme.

We broke attendance records in Houston, and the National Rifle Association family is now over 5 million and growing.  And you know what?  We’re good people!  Let’s keep the family strong and keep up the good fight, because those who hate us are not done.

Then I’ll look for you at the next reunion…the 143rd NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Indianapolis next year…and we’ll talk.