The Leadership Forum is part of the events associated with the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting (NRAAM), running from Thursday through Sunday.
Trump was the keynote speaker at the Forum, which officially began at 12:30 PM, but Trump did not speak until about an hour later. He is the first sitting U.S. President to speak at the forum since Reagan did so in 1983. Also speaking were NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne Lapierre, NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox, Sheriff David A Clarke, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, LTC (ret) Allen West, Senator Ted Cruz, Antonia Okafor, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, FL Governor Rick Scott, Senator Luther Strange, Senator David Purdue, and former baseball player Adam Laroche.
The highlight for the crowd was definitely President Trump. Everyone in the room at the Georgia World Congress Center waited in anticipation for nearly an hour after the scheduled start time for Trump to arrive (many people arrived early as well, as the doors opened at 9am). The waiting interval was filled with country music (mostly) and various NRA videos playing on the screens. However, one of the more ironic pieces of music played was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” While a good song, Springsteen is known for being “anti-Trump.”
The videos elicited audible responses from the crowd; pre-election videos featuring Hillary Clinton and Hollywood celebrities were booed, while videos of Reagan and Trump were cheered. Many videos were centered around the NRA’s theme “I’m the NRA, Freedom’s Safest Place,” featuring various members of the NRA making this declaration. Kimberly Corban‘s video, in particular, garnered cheers from the crowd.
Also playing were a series of videos which featured Hollywood celebrities confidently predicting that Trump would never be president and ridiculing the idea. This was followed by a video of former President Obama doing the same. Finally, there was a video montage of Trump praising the NRA, in particular Chris Cox and Wayne Lapierre.
Finally, Chris Cox got on stage to speak and it appeared that the main event would finally begin. He introduced LTC (ret) Oliver North who led the crowd in an invocation. Then, the Pledge of Allegiance was led by the NRA officers. This was followed by the National Anthem, sung by former Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Lisa Stierwalt. Chris Cox then spoke again, before Wayne Lapierre took the stage.
Lapierre referenced “academic elites,” “political elites,” and “leftist media elites” who wish to strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights. He referenced the liberal news media and their agenda crowding out “good values” from public discussion. Finally, he talked about the NRA’s new Carry Guard program of training and insurance for concealed carry. This program was advertised extensively at the event and on the show floor, marking the NRA’s entrance into offerings for the growing concealed carry market.
Singer Lee Greenwood then sang “God Bless the USA.” Towards the end of the song, the speaking podium was removed from the stage and replaced with the Presidential podium adorned with the Presidential seal. Cox then came up to announce President Trump.
Trump took the stage to the playing of “Hail to the Chief,” flanked by Cox and Lapierre. The crowd was ecstatic to see him, standing and cheering loudly. Trump soaked up the adoration, and it seemed that this was his natural element which he most enjoyed.
Trump began by thanking Cox and Lapierre, praising Lee Greenwood, and mentioning Karen Handel’s upcoming run-off election in the GA 6th Congressional District. He also praised the late Charleston Heston, former NRA President and defender of the Second Amendment.
Trump then related the surprise victory he won in the November elections, before tying it back to the fact that he was the only candidate in the General Election to speak to the NRA (i.e. Clinton did not come to speak) and that the NRA had endorsed him early in the primaries.
He said to the NRA members, “But you came through for me, and I am going to come through for you,” before referencing the fact that he is the first sitting President to address the NRA-ILA since Ronald Reagan did so in 1983.
Trump then focused on the Second Amendment, saying to large cheers:
The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end. You have a true friend and champion in the White House. No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners. No longer will the government be trying to undermine your rights and your freedoms as Americans. Instead, we will work with you, by your side.
He mentioned his appointments of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and Ryan Zinke as the Secretary of the Interior as positive moments in the defense of the Second Amendment.
Turning his focus to “law and order,” Trump spoke about the battle against illegal aliens, crime, criminal gangs such as MS-13, and terrorism. He praised Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly for their work in countering these threats. He reiterated his promise to “build the wall.”
Trump then said:
So let me make a simple promise to every one of the freedom-loving Americans in the audience today: As your President, I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Never ever. Freedom is not a gift from government. Freedom is a gift from God.
He followed this with a reference to the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 when the British attempted to seize the arms of the American colonists. He spoke about the importance of that day and the ensuing Revolution, ending with:
Since the first generation of Americans stood strong at Concord, each generation to follow has answered the call to defend freedom in their time. That is why we are here today: To defend freedom for our children. To defend the liberty of all Americans. And to defend the right of a free and sovereign people to keep and bear arms.
Finally, he thanked the NRA and closed with “God Bless you. God Bless our Constitution, and God bless America. Thank you very much.”
The crowd loved Trump’s speech and cheered him on. One does not get the full effect of Trump’s speaking ability through written transcripts. When written down, his sentences appear choppy and, at times, awkward. However, in person he makes a connection with the crowd, responding to their cheers and reactions, and his speaking style therefore appears more personal. In contrast, Ted Cruz, who is a more polished speaker, gives the impression that he is reciting a well-rehearsed stump speech. Actually, one of the funnier lines of Trump’s speech was regarding Cruz. He said of him that he was someone “I really liked, didn’t like, and now like a lot again.”
Look for additional articles coming soon at The Resurgent regarding the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum and the Exhibits.