DALLAS -- The National Rifle Association brings big debates, but it also brings big business, which benefited Dallas big-time this weekend.
The NRA's annual convention was expected to draw some 80,000 attendees to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center over three days, bringing around $42 million of economic impact to the area according to Visit Dallas, and both figures may have been surpassed.
"This is the largest NRA Annual Meetings we've ever had in terms of space out on the show floor, the number of exhibitors, and we think the number of attendees, as well," says Jeff Poole, the NRA's managing director for shows and exhibits. "We had some pretty lofty goals coming in, some pretty big expectations for Dallas, Texas, and we think they've been met and exceeded in really every category."
While the politics surrounding the NRA are unavoidable--according to the Pew Research Center even 29 percent of U.S. gun owners have said the NRA has too much influence on gun laws and just 19 percent of gun owners are actually NRA members--those we talked to say those heavy issues don't weigh down the event.
"I don't think it overshadows," says Poole. "I think if you come and experience this event you understand that; if you are on the outside looking in, maybe you don't.
"They're not being dominated by the political aspect of it. This is their lifestyle, and that's why they're coming to the show."
Karen Butler, founder and president of Shoot Like A Girl which encourages women (and men) to get involved with sport-shooting, says her business has not been limited by political ideology.
"There's just as many people on the left as the right that enjoy shooting sports," believes Butler, who offered free firearm and archery target practice at her booth on the show floor. "We've literally circled the United States; we've been in every demographic and stereotype that this country has, and ... they're coming to our trailer to learn how to be safe responsible gun owners, and they don't let the politics stop them."
Whether or not you agree with the NRA, it will return to the Lone Star State soon. Houston will host the organization's 150th anniversary convention in 2021, and a return to the Dallas area shouldn't be far behind after this weekend's turnout.
"Texas is NRA country," says Poole, "and we'd like to get back to Texas as soon as we can."