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They came, they saw and they are planning ahead

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It is the final day of the National Rifle Association convention in Indianapolis; exhibitors are finding room to breathe from Saturday’s aisle-jammer and NRA members are already planning for next year’s event in Nashville, while they are still getting over last night’s big bash at the Lucas Oil Stadium featuring Sarah Palin and Lt. Col. Oliver North.

This morning’s opening-hour crowd is not nearly as large as Saturday, but today will see standing-room-only audiences in several NRA seminars, and people will be back to check out the things they didn’t see yesterday. For much of Saturday, it was difficult to move very far in the massive exhibit hall, and several people told this column they did not get everything done.

There is today’s second annual “Sports Youth Day” event that includes opportunities to learn about cattle roping, wildlife identification, 3-Gun AirSoft, camouflage face painting and more. It’s a chance for tomorrow’s shooters and hunters to start the learning process and have fun.

Also on today’s agenda are workshops on defensive shooting skills, and Ted Nugent’s book signing. They’ll line up for a copy of his new book, “Ted, White, and Blue.”

The NRA has its critics, including Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully, who was not terribly kind to the organization that, when the final tally is available, may have just dumped more than $50 million into the local economy by some estimates. But from the police officers and sheriff’s deputies doing security duties here to the local businesses and area residents, there has been a genuine feeling of welcome for the tens of thousands of NRA members.

A quick glance at license plates in area parking lots revealed that people have come here from Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee, neighboring Ohio and Illinois, and points beyond. Critics may have had their say, but not their day, if the turnout has been any indication.

One prevailing sentiment throughout the exhibit hall is that billionaire Michael Bloomberg may be the best recruiter NRA has ever known, perhaps even better than President Barack Obama. Bloomberg’s launch of his $50 million so-called “grassroots” effort to beat the NRA with “Everytown for Gun Safety” has not simply aroused these gun owners, it has infuriated them.

Yesterday’s “Everytown” rally led by Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America — which is part of the “Everytown” campaign — attracted a couple of hundred people. Compared to the crowds that jammed the convention center, it was a rather tepid event. Probably not many of them could pass a test on Second Amendment knowledge posted by the Christian Science Monitor.

As gun owners-turned-activists depart for home today or early tomorrow morning, there does seem to be a renewed spirit of citizenship. It is more than just activism; people here seem determined to go back to their communities and rouse their friends and neighbors to be ready to vote in November.

Bloomberg’s effort to beat the NRA may turn out to be the catalyst for a new round of surging membership that could spill onto other gun rights groups. That could play an important part in this fall’s “dueling initiatives” election in Washington state, where the former New York mayor’s support for Initiative 594, the 18-page gun control measure touting itself as a “universal background check” proposal, has been no secret.

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