The National Rifle Association canceled its largest gathering of the year at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, but the organization said it will move forward with a limited members' meeting scheduled for September.
The gun-rights group said the meeting will now be held on Saturday, September 5, at the Springfield Expo Center in Springfield, Missouri. The news comes after the NRA was forced to cancel its April conference scheduled to take place in Nashville, Tennessee, due to coronavirus stay-at-home orders. The Springfield event appears to be scaled back as it is scheduled to take place over the course of a single Saturday, rather than the three-day event that typically draws tens of thousands of gun enthusiasts, retailers, and manufacturers.
The NRA said the meeting where members provide feedback to the organization's leadership would begin at 9 a.m. on the September 5. However, officials weren't able to confirm whether or not there would be events taking place beyond that meeting. Traditionally, the members' meeting is part of the NRA's greater Annual Meeting, which includes a large exhibit floor featuring the gun industry's latest offerings as well as speeches from politicians and the group's leadership. The meeting has drawn up to 80,000 attendees in recent years.
The NRA has long used its Annual Meeting as a fundraising vehicle. While the group reported a rebound in donations and contributions in 2018, it has been forced to furlough and lay off staff amidst the coronavirus pandemic. A reduced convention may contribute to the financial struggles facing the group in the lead up to the 2020 election.
It is unlikely the September event at the Springfield Expo Center, which features about 112,000 square feet of floor space and has no confirmed exhibitors, will be able to match the fundraising performance of the previously planned event at the Music City Center; a 2.1 million-square-foot facility where the NRA had planned to house more than 575 exhibitors, several fundraising dinners, and fundraising auctions. This year's event may be focused more on meeting the group's bylaw requirements for having a members' meeting than the traditional focus of fundraising and celebration of the group's accomplishments.
The political advocacy side of the gun-rights group has also long presented the leadership forum during the Annual Meeting. That event features speeches from House members and senators who are supportive of the group's mission and has long been one of the most influential gun-rights events in the country. Donald Trump has spoken at every forum since becoming president. This year, there are no announced plans to hold the forum or have the president speak to those gathered at the members' meeting.
The annual conference has been the site of controversy and internal fighting. In 2019, former NRA president Oliver North accused NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre of financial impropriety and LaPierre accused North of attempting to extort him into resigning. The controversy spilled over into the members' meeting where a group of members attempted to force resignations of LaPierre and certain board members over leaked memos detailing questionable spending practices within the organization, but were ultimately unsuccessful.
The controversy bled into the group's relationship with its longtime media contractor Ackerman McQueen. The two eventually parted ways and are now locked in an ongoing legal battle over the breakup as well as expenses charged by the company allegedly on behalf of NRA leadership—especially LaPierre.
Whatever the outcome of this year's meeting, the NRA has already announced plans for an annual meeting in 2021. The full-scale, three-day event will take place at the 1.9 million-square-foot George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.