23 March 2009

More Than A Trend: NRA Membership Skyrocketing With Worry Over Politics, Economy

Early last year the board of trustees of Peoples Rights Organization, an Ohio firearms rights advocacy group that among its many missions also conducts firearms safety training, was approached by C&E/ShowMasters Gun Shows to work with them in presenting gun shows in the Buckeye State .

One of the responsibilities PRO took on was to run a National Rifle Association recruiting table in the front lobby of each show. Since this group had already been listed as a NRA recruiter some years past, they jumped right in, but they had never recruited more than a couple dozen members at any event. And, when they were told they should work at recruiting at least 5 percent of the attendees at each show, they gulped hard, thinking this was a bit aggressive.

It was when you do the math! That’s 300 membership signups if there are 6,000 customers. When PRO (author's note for full disclosure: I am one of those members of the PRO Board of Trustees) contacted the NRA recruiting office in D.C. they requested enough kits for 1,000 people. This made sense because three big shows and two Basic Pistol Marksmanship/CCW classes were to take place in a six week period in August and September of 2008. However, the staff at NRA HQ told our point man that we should only order enough for 100 for each show. He was told this is all most recruiters achieved at a gun show.

Fortunately, AND I MEAN FORTUNATELY, others made contacts for him and he was able to obtain applications and 500 hats for giveaways. Still, the feeling at the NRA was that we should not get our expectations up too high, as we were being too optimistic.Without any experience in putting together a professional sales booth, they relied on the NRA’s recruiting supplies catalog to build a fair looking set of tables and banners. This really helped.

The first show was at the Franklin County Veterans Memorial Convention Center in Columbus, and C&E/ShowMasters produced a fantastic event. Almost 900 tables. It was the first time a gun show had been produced at this venue -- downtown in Ohio's capital city -- since 1989, when the City of Columbus passed its first ban on competition rifles (so-called "assault weapons"). This ban was later overturned twice in federal court.

What surprised a number of our novice recruiters last year was the amount of sales presence necessary to pitch the “Join the NRA - Get in Free” deal. Fortunately, a handful of our members are in sales, and were experienced with the “meet and greet” technique. Our designated recruiting chief says he caught onto this a little late in the first day, but soon enough for us to be able to recruit 166 new NRA members.

It was our first time out of the gate, we were quite pleased by that big number. This initiation provided just enough experience for the small group of firearm safety trainers to be prepared for a historical election year gun and ammunition buying spree. By the September 2008 show, the American public began to fear the likelihood of an anti-gun candidate (well, neither was pro gun, but then Sen. Obama was definitely gun "unfriendly") getting elected president.

People were getting stocked up on shooting supplies, but that was not the only thing on their mind. Moms, dad, grandmothers, granddads, aunts and uncles of every economic stripe and ethnic category realized that they were going to need the NRA more than ever.
In mid September, Ohio was hit by the outer rim of a very large hurricane, Ike, which kept the numbers down at the Wilmington gun show. Adding to the misery, the Wilmington area had several industries close up and unemployment was skyrocketing. The turnout at the show was not as expected -- only about 2,000 people. But the interesting thing is that our band of recruiters still signed up more than 160 members yet again, which was quite a surprise to the C&E/ShowMasters staff.

It seemed too easy. Even on the slower day of Sunday, when the church-goer crowd arrived, a high percentage of those walking in would stop at the table to join. The only people we could not sign up were those that had just renewed via a NRA phone recruiter or were already life members.

We were also pleasantly surprised by the number of women who were joining. So we made certain, whenever possible, to have female firearms instructors on hand. Some women coming into the show (gun shows are family events) even led their husbands to the NRA table. Whole families were signing up. Even college coeds were approaching the table by themselves and eagerly joining the NRA. We had one event where we signed up more than 300 new members over a two day period.

By the end of 2008, NRA headquarters was swamped with membership applications. But our happy little bunch of men and women, many of whom who donate their time as a community service by teaching firearms safety classes and doing advocacy work at the Ohio Statehouse, was not fully aware of the national situation.

This was PRO's first year of serious involvement in this activity, so the numbers of people signing up, we thought, was either the norm -- OR we were some awesome sales people! Neither was true. When our point man contacted HQ as to why it was taking so long for new members who had signed up to get their membership packets, cards and magazines (we were seeing and hearing from people who wondered why they had not yet received membership packets), the office worker expressed some . . . well . . . frustration.

“Don’t you know what’s going on? We have stacks of applications all over the place and we don’t have the staff to process them. Since before the election we have been the busiest in our history. Give as a break, will ya!?”
There it was, and it continues to be. There has been no slow down. Interestingly, before we got started we further were advised by other recruiters and NRA staff that after the first few gun shows we would probably saturate the market for recruiting, in that repeat attendees would already have signed up. Wrong! Most of the people attending the gun shows now are first timers who realize that the Obama administration -- despite its protestations of being firearm friendly -- will try to keep them from having a gun ownership future, so they are coming out to acquire now what they had long put off purchasing.
The first thing these first timers see when they enter the gun show is the “Join the NRA, Get in Free” banners, and most of those who are not members sign up. We also have people purchasing memberships as gifts for their family members and friends. We have grandparents giving memberships to their grandkids.

In all, we have signed up approximately 2,800 new NRA members since last August.

Now this number is just in Central Ohio. Of course, this is being repeated all across the nation, pretty much every weekend of the year. President Obama, and his advisers, had better realize they are all in for a big fight if any gun ban or restriction legislation is signed into law. Already there are moves within Congress by democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to raise a red flag to the White House, telling Attorney General Eric Holder and others that a new ban on competition rifles is not only inadvisable, but that they will fight it tooth and nail. These are members of the majority party in Congress, bucking their own leadership, a leadership that is so anti-gun it would make your head spin.

Oh, by the way, did I forget to mention (as if you didn't already know) that there is a severe ammunition sales volume causing at least one industry some success? An issue that is not being reported by the legacy media? Nevertheless, firearms owners know. Law enforcement knows. Competitors know. Hunters know.

The NRA is getting, and will have plenty of support, because their recruiters across the nation are easily exceeding their goals. Because the American public is increasingly aware of the fagility of their Second Amendment rights.

I can't speak for recruiters in other areas of the U.S. , but for our merry little band in Ohio ? We are loving it!

No comments: