NRA Annual Meeting Summary (May 16th, 2009)

Louis and I drove up to Phoenix from Tucson on Saturday morning, got horribly lost ignoring the fiancee’s excellent directionsnavigating the Phoenix area, paid our $12 fee to the parking gods, and checked in at the NRA Press Room where we met Sebastian from Snowflakes in Hell, then set off for the exhibit floor.
To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised with the NRA’s treatment of bloggers — they had a sizable press room, free snacks, coffee, and sodas, multiple big-screen TVs tuned into various news channels (including the occasional live feed from NRA events at the meeting), a small screened-off speaking area with a podium and chairs, and a few large tables for people to sit, write on their laptops (many power outlets were provided), and free wi-fi access. While we bloggers would have written about the meeting anyway, it was nice that they were so friendly and welcoming to us.
Many of the other bloggers were off sitting in on meetings and other events, so Louis and I took to the floor. As we descended the stairs to the exhibit hall, we were taken aback by the huge crowds, a small glimpse of who are displayed here:

Those crowds were simply people waiting to get into the exhibit halls, either as existing NRA members who needed to get an entry sticker or people seeking new membership to enter. There were several such counters, each with similar numbers of people lined up at each.
Equipped with our media passes (and openly-carried firearms), we went forth to the exhibit floor (( Observation: While of the people present were white males, the full spectrum of humanity was represented at the event. People all of colors, shapes, and sizes were perusing the exhibits, a few of whom were also openly carrying holstered firearms as they went about their business. Truly, this was a diverse event. )).
Now, I’ve been to gun shows before and I’ve been to various expos (( MacWorld, mostly. )), but I’ve never seen anything this big before. There were thousands of people milling around the vast, interconnected, underground halls. Essentially all the major (and most of the minor) makers of guns, ammo, and accessories were present, including names like Bushmaster, Federal Cartridge, Barrett, Armalite, Ruger, S&W, Glock, Taurus, Dillon, CZ, Springfield Armory, Henry, Marlin, Blackhawk, Winchester, Browning, Leupold, US Optics and many more. Representatives from MidwayUSA, GunsAmerica, and other vendors were present, with several booths selling various items (holsters, gun lubricants, etc.) in addition to showing off their latest wares. Companies like Kawasaki and Yamaha had many of their ATVs, generators, and other outdoor power equipment on display.
In addition to the core group of manufacturers, vendors, and dealers, there were also booths manned by other organizations: safari expedition companies, collectors associations, small-time restorers of classic arms, and so on.
Surprisingly, I didn’t find a single vendor selling beef jerky.
Lest the NRA be thought of as the old fuddy-duddy of the gun-rights movement, concerned only with hunting and sporting uses of arms, the first booth we saw on the exhibit floor had an M240 medium machine gun as well as the very cool AR-FiveSeven:

While I can’t really see the utility of it (the AR-FiveSeven is chambered in 5.7x28mm, and basically turns an already-expensive .22 into an even-more-expensive .22), the rifle is surprisingly compact, has a Brady-scaring mag capacity of 50 rounds (it uses P90 mags and ejects empties out the magwell on the bottom), and looks fun to shoot.
ArmaLite had an AR-50 out on display, and this seemed to get a fair bit of attention from passers-by, including your humble scribe:

(While it certainly looks dangerous to be pointing a gun at other people, all the guns on display were unloaded, disabled (often having the firing pins removed, lest someone bring their own ammo), and otherwise rendered safe. Even so, Louis and I followed the four rules as best we could, and checked all guns prior to handling.)
Barrett had their much-lusted-for M82A1 out on display:

(Note: When aimed in such a position, one cannot remove or insert the 10-round magazine without lifting the butt of the rifle. I’d imagine this would be problematic for people using their M82 for Serious Purposes(tm) out in the field. Anyone have any experience with real-world mag changes with such a rifle?)
All the Barrett rifles sported very nice scopes with Barrett’s scope-mounted ballistic computer. Alas, I was dismayed to discover that the computer displays information on a small LCD panel, but does not include any in-scope display. I suppose that would be challenging, with the sealed, weatherproof nature of modern riflescopes. Perhaps my hopes were set too high?
Most of Barrett’s offerings were chambered in .50 BMG, but they had a few guns in .338 Lapua, which isn’t exactly the least-spendy loading around:

I’d really like to see them release a rifle in something a bit more affordable, like .308, so that Mere Mortals like myself can afford to buy and shoot their rifles.
A stop by the Ruger booth revealed the LCP, which I had read about before but never seen in person:

I have fairly normal-sized hands, and that gun was miniscule. Louis has somewhat bulkier hands and shorter fingers, and was only able to get a one-and-a-half finger grip on the tiny pistol. Even so, it packs a bit of a wallop with .380 (good luck finding any these days!). I’d imagine that the recoil out of such a small gun would be rather harsh.
I’ve been a fan of Ruger revolvers for some time, but had never gotten into their autoloaders: they always seemed rather bulky and unwieldy to me. The SR9, however, fit my hand rather well, and seemed to be well-made (( Recall notwithstanding. )) If I were in the market for a new handgun in the future, this gun would be on my shortlist.
I’ve been out of touch for a few days due to classes and exams, and so I had hear rumors (( It turns out that other bloggers had been invited for the unveiling of the display before the show opened to the public, but I hadn’t checked my feed reader in some time, and was unaware. )) that Ruger was going to release a new AR variant at the show, and was looking forward to it. At first, I didn’t see the new gun, as it wasn’t visible from the middle of the Ruger cluster of displays.
As I prepared to move on to the next booth, I decided to walk around the outside of their displays, and there saw this:

(While it might look like the man on the right was bowing, he was simply looking down at the moment.)
The Ruger rep was extolling the virtues of the new rifle, which evidently include a short-stroke gas piston, adjustable gas knob, chromed bolt carrier, full-length Troy rails, three 30-round Magpul PMags, a six-position adjustable stock, and some nifty flip-up iron sights. He was also sporting a rather dashing moustache:

They had a few SR-556s that they were passing around for people to inspect and handle. The build quality seemed good, and the rubber rail covers were a welcome relief from the uncovered, sharp four-rail handguards found on many of the other vendor’s AR-type guns. While my visit today was brief, I returned on Sunday to ask the Ruger reps a few more questions (more in a following post).
Federal Cartridge has released commercial .30-06 and .308 ammunition that meets the exacting specs required for the M1 Garand and M14/M1A rifles. While I couldn’t find this product on their website, I find it refreshing that a manufacturer is thinking about us M1 shooters — military surplus M2 Ball has been drying up (though I hear the CMP still has a bunch) and I’ve been switching to reloading where possible, but lack the time to make as much as I want. If I can find this stuff locally at a reasonable price, I’ll be very happy indeed.
HK’s impressive display included a rack of full-auto stuff not available to mere mortalsthe public:

Such guns included the MP5K, MP5SD, G36C, and MP7. Much drooling ensued until we moved over to the more mundane side of their booth, where they displayed their HK 416 (whee, another expensive, piston-driven AR clone!) and their wide array of rifles and handguns:

Lunchtime arrived, and we met up with Eric from Handgun Podcast some a few of his cohorts and grabbed some pizza at a shop near the convention center. Many thanks to Eric for buying lunch — next time we meet up, lunch is on me.
Despite the huge crowds inside, the area immediately outside the convention center was surprisingly devoid of crowds — a few people walked here and there, but there was no crushing swarms of people. Traffic was also rather light, which was also unusual for such a huge event. Evidently the folks who designed the area surrounding the convention center did a good job at tackling the issues with vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
After lunch, Louis and I headed back inside and started up where we left off — Mossberg’s booth had a variety of neat things, including their yellow-clad shotgun:

Presumably the yellow shotgun would be used for shooting the Taser XREP 12-gauge Slug of Shocking (+3), and is a different color to not be confused with shotguns loaded with lethal ammo (( Not to mention the options for color-coordinating! )). In the event that a Taser-launching shotgun (( Of course, it could fire ordinary 12ga ammo as well. )) was insufficient, a rail on the pump mounted another Taser just in case. Surprisingly, the rail and mounted Taser didn’t interfere with gripping the pump as much as I thought it would.
They also had their absolutely absurd-looking Rolling Thunder shotgun, which is just a Model 500 equipped with an enormous muzzle brake. Seriously, this thing looks like it could be used to launch flares or throw lines from ship to ship. I honestly see no real purpose for such an attachment — they already had shotguns with impractically-large Barrett-style muzzle brakes (( Massive brakes on huge guns like the M82 and AR-50 are fine, but they look really out of place on shotguns. )) and pointy, mean-looking breaching attachments, why bother with a huge, cylindrical brake?
A constant, satisfying “clack-clack” sound was heard around their booth. Surprisingly, no bowels were voided in the vicinity of the booth, leading me to question the age-old myth that racking a shotgun will instantly scare away people. Perhaps more extensive testing (preferably in an easily-cleaned chamber, just in case the myth has some truth to it) is needed?
FN’s P90/PS90 display was swarmed with people, and we weren’t able to get close. We did, however, manage to get our mitts on the FNAR (( Which has an exceedingly Scandanavian-sounding name when spoken as a word, rather than as Eff-En-Ay-Arr. We were very amused by the name, and repeated it often. )), which looks rather nifty:

It’s a magazine-fed, semi-auto rifle chambered in .308. This particular model was the heavy-barreled model, and it was quite heavy indeed. When held, it felt considerably heavier than an M1A. According to the FN website, these rifles must shoot better than 1 MOA to pass inspection. Comments on other blogs indicate a retail price of about $1,400, which is not unreasonable for a high-quality .308 rifle from a reputable manufacture. No idea on magazine prices or availability, though — it appears that they take proprietary mags. Ergonomics are good. Assuming the descriptions of accuracy are accurate (pun very much intended), this gun makes the short list.
Springfield had several of their XD-M pistols on display, but I honestly couldn’t figure out how they differed from my XD. They changed some textures around, but they look similar from the exterior. I also go to play withhandle an M1A SOCOM II, Springfield’s compact M1A:

According to other folks at the display, the shorter barrel makes this gun a bit of a fire-breather. While no doubt a fine rifle, the balance seemed a bit off. Perhaps I’m used to longer rifles like the M1?
Taurus had a huge, curving display with all of their handgun models shown:

I had no idea they produced so many different pistols, but they were all up on display. I’d not yet handled a PT1911, but they look promising (particularly for lefties like myself) and affordable, so I may have to put one on the list.
DSA had a bunch of their FALs on racks, and I got to handle one for the first time:

Unfortunately, these rails didn’t have rubber covers on them, and the edges of the aluminum rails dug uncomfortably into my hand. The pistol grip on FALs has always looked strange to me, but was quite comfortable in person. Assuming I get rubber rail covers, this one’s going on my list.
Around this time, my fiancee Sarah (hi honey!) arrived. After giving her the guest pass that the NRA thoughtfully provided at no cost, I tried to convince her that adding an AR-50 to the wedding registry would be a good idea:

She was less than convinced.
Evidently she’s under the impression that a new couple’s anti-mat?riel needs are evidently not as pressing as their needs for new cookware, pillowcases, and the like. Of course, we already have such things, why should we bother with more pots and pans were there’s a notable gap in the safe?
A quick stop by the CZ booth resulted in my gun-want-o-meter getting pegged high when I saw a left-handed CZ 452 American .22LR rifle:

My local shop rarely has CZ products, and never lefty versions. They also had the 16″, pre-threaded barrel version, but this is available only in right-handed models (( A visit on Sunday to the booth revealed that CZ-USA’s custom shop is able to take the left-handed receiver and stock and mate it to the threaded, 16″ barrel and deliver it to my local FFL. They gave me a card with contact information in case I wanted to see how much such a gun would cost. )).
Our feet were hurting after several hours on the exhibit hall floor, so we stopped by the press office, bid good night to the other bloggers there, and went to dinner near Sarah’s place in a nearby suburb of Phoenix.
The night was spent sorting through pictures and notes and prepping ourselves for the next day.
Below is a slideshow containing all the pictures that turned out reasonably well:

One thought on “NRA Annual Meeting Summary (May 16th, 2009)”

  1. On the M82 issue of the magazine, you don’t have to lift it that much IIRC. plus a 10 round loaded mag is heaver than you initially think and takes a bit of getting used to if you want to do quick mag changes… then again… if you need more than ten rounds in a “Serious Purposes(tm)” situation… you either need a bigger caliber or more range time 🙂

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