The people, as always were fantastic - I made a bunch of new friends and reconnected with others. Meeting up with folks I've talked with online is always the highlight of the convention. I met LawDog, Oleg Volk, Phlegmmy, Danno and the Sandcastle Crew, Matt G., Peter, Don Gwinn, Squeaky and Forrest, Awelowynt, Thirdpower, Matthew, Just People, Snarky, TotC, Crucis, and many others whose names escape me. And old friends - Ambulance Driver, Rick Ector, DaddyBear, Lars, OldNFO, Destinee (and her bodyguard...), Kathy Jackson, Sebastian and Bitter, Dennis, NUGUN, John Richardson, Frank James, Tom, and Mad Saint Jack. If I've omitted you, it's completely by accident - please drop a note in comments so I can add anyone I've forgotten.
Celebrities: Mas Ayoob, Gunny, Ronnie Barrett - we managed to miss Ted Nugent and Larry the Cable guy, although I heard that he was walking the convention floor. We bumped into Mas at Tigins; he was leaving as we were just sitting down. I think I managed to keep my fanboi squeeing to a minimum; I've been following Mas for nearly 20 years now at least - and finally got to meet him, even though he operates not even 2 hours from my house... Gunny was awesome as always - the youngest member of the Sandcastle crew was positively gushing about meeting Gunny, and was given a challenge coin by the man himself. Seems Gunny liked his haircut... Ronnie Barrett is a true American icon, and I had to get my picture taken with the man who told the state of California to get stuffed...
The venue. This year was a *lot* nicer than Pittsburgh as far as location goes. The hotel was in easy walking distance, meaning that we didn't spend 2+ hours in traffic on Friday like we did last year. It doesn't seem like much, but easy access to the convention from the hotel means a lot less of a logistical headache when getting folks together. There are many hotels within short distance of the venue, and we wound up congregating in our hotel just about every evening. Even on Saturday, when the weather was not cooperating and it was pouring buckets, we were able to catch the shuttle down in short order. The one downside to the convention center, though, was the quality - or lack thereof - of the wi-fi signal - it seemed like folks were fighting for connectivity, and folks like Destinee, who rely on solid connections for uploading video, were hampered in their efforts to fully cover the show.
St. Louis. We were fortunate to have STL native son Matthew Allen there as our guide two out of four nights (and Thursday really didn't count, as we more or less met up and then finished unpacking. We explored a different restaurant every evening, ranging from a lovely Irish pub (ask Dennis about his bangers and mash) to a fine Italian steakhouse. We eat well at the convention, that's for sure. And the history of St. Louis! There's the arch, which pretty much dominates the downtown landscape; there's Busch Stadium right down the street from the hotel (which was interesting on Saturday, as that was the home opener for the 2011 World Series Champion Cardinals); and right down the street from my hotel was the very courthouse where the Dred Scott decision was remanded.
The Convention itself. Saturday was easily the busiest day, with folks packing the convention center all day long. Some 73,000+ people were in attendance, and it felt like every single one of them were trying to walk the floor on Saturday. Even at that, though, the vast majority of attendees were amazingly polite - obligatory reference to Heinlein's "armed society" comment here - we wound up chatting with random folks just about everywhere we went. In fact, the manager of one of the restaurants where we had dinner commented that she had been managing that restaurant for nearly five years, and she had never seen folks as pleasant and well-behaved as she had with the NRA in town. It's good to see such ambassadorship from our tribe!
The NRA. As I alluded in my earlier post, I spent a chunk of one morning chatting with Stephanie Samford, the NRA-ILA media liaison, about how the NRA can better reach out to the blogging community. It was a pleasant surprise to see that we're reaching parity with "traditional" media (I'll refrain from calling them "dinosaur media" if they'll stop referring to us as "New Media" - we're all media!) - more on this later in the general sense. Stephanie had some excellent questions for Thirdpower and I (well, she was chatting with Thirdpower; I was at the table and interjecting periodically, as is my wont...). It seems as though the NRA gets it - gunblogs/youtubers/etc. are here to stay, and rather than ignore us hoping we'll go away they're taking steps to include us.
The Gear. Smith & Wesson's M&P Shield generated a lot of buzz, as did Ruger's new take-down 10/22. I had a chance to
One of the biggest splashes on the gear side of things was the new Crimson Trace green laser. They're working on having units available for popular handguns later this year, and have a forend grip model currently on the market. I'd love to do a side-by-side comparison between their red lasers and the new green lasers once available - I've got one of the red lasers for the M&P45, and it's just a fantastic design that should be even easier to use with a more visible green laser. Another interesting item on the holster side (sorry Dennis) was the Sticky Holsters brand - it's designed by the same folks that brought the Remora holster to market who have since branched out on their own. They were kind enough to provide a sample for testing, and a separate review will follow shortly.
Talking to a good number of exhibitors, one thing is for certain: Business is good, very good - Smith & Wesson is ramping up production, Ruger is running at full capacity, even custom manufacturers like E.R. Shaw (custom AR barrels) are close to full production capacity. Anyone claiming that the gun industry is in decline is flat-out lying through their teeth - the facts do not support their hypothesis in the least. We were surprised to see industry stalwarts like 5.11 Gear not represented, though - AD and I were hoping to talk with them about the new 5.11 tactical kilt for Kilted to Kick Cancer. And speaking of AD and KTKC, it was very heartening to hear how many companies had stepped up to offer prizes and incentives for this year's contest.
It seemed to me that industry folks are starting to get used to bloggers. AD and I were very pleasantly surprised by the reception at MG Arms, who make super-accurate, highly customized rifles for big game hunts. We were standing in the booth just drooling over the beautiful rifles, and the rep was very pleasant and interested in what we were accomplishing as gunbloggers - and indicated that he'd like to reach out to us and have us test some of their rifles... Don't throw me into that briar patch, Brer Fox... LawDog noted a change in attitude at several different booths when he revealed himself to be Media - a very positive change in attitude. While we may still not command the same level of interest as the traditional print media, it seems as though manufacturers are starting to realize the importance of the internet as a source of information about their products.
Mad Saint Jack alerted us that Lynn Thompson himself was not only at the Cold Steel booths, but he was also giving demonstrations. We caught part of a few different demonstrations, some where the cutting power of the Cold Steel blades was showcased, and some actual swordplay. It was an interesting, dramatic presentation that certainly highlighted the strengths of their product. We almost had to drag DaddyBear away from the swords, though - he looked like he was on the verge of committing some indecent acts for one of the broadswords...
And speaking of not highlighting your products, DaddyBear and I were decidedly unimpressed by Taurus. We were checking out their polymer .357 Magnum revolver, and we discovered that while it appeared to be a DA/SA revolver, it was in actuality only DAO. The gun would function fine in DA shooting, but it was literally impossible to cock the hammer for single action firing. DaddyBear and I theorized that there must have been a burr on the hammer or some other imperfection - but to have a gun on display that didn't function to the extent of that one? It doesn't instill confidence, that's for certain. It certainly doesn't help dispel the impression that Taurus quality is on a par with that of other manufacturers.
This was my third NRA convention, and the first after attending SHOT Show. I'll be in Houston next year, and Nashville in 2014, as long as blogging folks want to get together. Houston should be great, as there are many gunbloggers in Texas (and my MA permit is honored!), so it should be another excellent get-together. I haven't seen any reason not to attend that didn't have to do with vacation time or money. I just hope that I can get a direct flight down, because the whole changing planes deal is definitely old...
Bottom line: I had a wonderful time; I got to reconnect with dear old friends and make new ones; the show was great and easy to navigate; and I'm planning on doing this again.
That is all.