Editors Note: Right after this Op-Ed was posted NRA officially canceled their Annual Member Meeting.
As fears grow over COVID-19, the new strain of Corona Virus that’s dominating headlines these days, there is a growing concern that NRA leadership might cancel, or dramatically cut back the Annual Meetings and Exhibits scheduled for the weekend of April 16th in Nashville, Tennessee.
Such an action wouldn’t be totally unprecedented. In 1999 the Annual Meeting was scheduled for Denver, Colorado. Just a few days before the event though, two deeply disturbed high school students went on a rampage in Littleton, Colorado. In response, the exhibit hall portion of the Annual Meetings was canceled, along with all social events, and the Meeting of Members was reduced to a bare minimum, in order to meet legal requirements in the charter and bylaws.
A massive outdoor trade show, basically the European equivalent to the SHOT Show, has been canceled until further notice. This news was released last week in direct response to growing fears about the COVID-19 virus. That’s a huge hit for the organizers of that show to take, and it would be a major financial loss to the NRA if they decide to cancel the events in Nashville. It’s not just a matter of losing deposits on hotel, meeting, and exhibit space, and lost revenue from exhibitors. A good bit of that could be offset to some degree by savings in the expenses of putting on the various events that are currently scheduled. There is also the matter of things like the ILA banquet and auction, and the NRA Women’s Council luncheon and auction, where NRA subdivisions typically raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hardest hit by a cancellation though, would be the city of Nashville, already reeling from some devastating tornado damage, and no doubt a decline in tourism, shopping, and dining out. Losing an event that is expected to bring in some 80,000 visitors, would be pretty depressing.
Anyone who has reserved hotel space through the NRA Travel Service will, under the current agreements, be liable for a $100 cancellation fee, if the reservation is canceled after a March 23 deadline. It’s likely that the NRA would arrange some sort of settlement on that, costing who knows how much more of the members’ money.
One thing that is very unlikely to change, is the Meeting of Members.
The NRA is required by their charter and bylaws to hold an annual meeting of members and to provide specific notice prior to that meeting. Changing the meeting date would require the clock and the process to all start over again, meaning that a meeting couldn’t be held for at least several months, causing all sorts of other problems. So, even if the exhibits and social events are canceled, it is almost certain that the Members’ Meeting and the Board of Directors Meeting will both go on as planned.
There’s no question that the COVID-19 virus is extremely contagious, and slowing its spread can help to provide more time for medical researchers and care providers to prepare and manage the cases as they pop up. There’s also little doubt that the virus is not nearly as deadly as it is being painted in the media and by some politicians. Virtually all of the deaths connected with COVID-19 in the U.S. have been people with compromised immune systems and other health problems. The virus appears to be little or no threat to healthy people, as over 60,000 have contracted it and fully recovered, generally within a couple of weeks. The primary focus should be on keeping the virus away from vulnerable individuals, rather than trying to keep it away from everyone. Hospitals, nursing homes, senior care facilities, and those with immune-compromised individuals at home, should be taking extra precautions, requiring anyone coming in contact with these vulnerable individuals, to wear a mask and avoid physical contact as much as possible, along with increasing sanitation practices like washing hands and faces and sanitizing contact surfaces.
Airlines say they are doing extra sanitation and air filtration, and airfares are falling, but with so many people choosing not to fly, it’s likely they will start canceling and consolidating flights soon. Hotels don’t have that option, so the $400 to $600 hotels in Nashville could be offering rooms for a song by the time the NRA meetings are supposed to take place.
The good news is that the media-inspired panic over COVID-19 is likely to start fizzling out by the end of March, as people begin to realize that their neighbors aren’t dropping like flies. If the NRA leadership doesn’t announce the cancellation of the meetings sometime before the first of April, there probably won’t be any changes.
There’s a good chance that Wayne LaPierre and his pals are, at this very moment, weighing whether holding an abbreviated meeting will help or hurt them in the internal political battle for control of the Association. On the one hand, it might be easier to control a trimmed back meeting with fewer attendees, but on the other hand, a lower turnout might result in a higher percentage of attendees being disgruntled members determined to see a housecleaning within their Association. That would be my hope, and regardless of what the NRA does with the exhibit hall and social events, the Member’s Meeting will probably go forward as scheduled. That’s why it’s so important that you are there. In fact, it might be even more important that you attend if the other events are canceled because that might give reformers the upper hand.
Bottom line: Come hell or high water, I intend to be at the NRA’s Meeting of Members, to raise issues critical to the Associations future, and could sure use your help.