(INDIANAPOLIS) - The National Rifle Association's annual convention opens in Indy today, with politicking to be featured both inside and outside the Convention Center.
Up to 70,000 are expected to attend the NRA's 143rd annual meeting, which is in Indianapolis for the first time.
"One of the main attractive points is that Indianapolis was centrally located," said Catherine Mortensen, NRA spokeswoman. "Within a four-hour driving radius, we can reach about one million of our five million members."
While some of the group's meetings have already taken place at the Indiana Convention Center, as well as a taping of the "Gun Gurus" TV show, the NRA will hold a ribbon cutting at 8:45 this morning officially opening the exhibit hall.
"Our exhibit floor has nine acres of guns and gear. But that's not all that (members) come to hear about. They care deeply about the legislative process, their second amendment rights, their ability to protect themselves," Mortensen said.
Indeed, politics comes to mind first for many people when they think of the NRA. The convention typically draws large numbers of elected officials and candidates, and this year is no exception.
Governor Pence is scheduled to speak at the NRA's Leadership Forum at 1pm today, as are three other prospective Republican presidential candidates - Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and 2012 candidate Rick Santorum.
Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak at Saturday's Stand and Fight Rally at Lucas Oil Stadium, which will also feature a country music concert with Alabama and Sara Evans.
The NRA has been especially active since President Obama's election in 2008. Gun sales and permits have risen nationwide, and there have been shortages of ammunition at times - the reason sometimes given is that gun enthusiasts were afraid the Obama administration would try to roll back gun rights, something that has not taken place, though Obama does favor gun restrictions.
That rollback is something the NRA's opponents would like to see, and it's what several protest groups will focus on outside the Convention Center this weekend.
"The one thing that could drastically reduce gun violence is rarely mentioned. The one thing that really works is to remove the guns from our streets," said Rev. Bruce Russell-Jayne at a demonstration organized by Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence, which drew about 25 people at City Market on Thursday.
There's an old saying that controversy creates cash, but for the city's tourism office, the sheer size of the convention is creating that mini economic boom.
"They will generate an estimated $55 million in economic impact," said Chris Gahl of Visit Indy. "It's the third-largest convention in the city's history and the largest of 2014."
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