August 24, 2021
For the second year in a row, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the National Rifle Association to cancel its annual meetings, a gathering that had been scheduled Sept. 3-5, 2021 in Houston.
News of the cancellation broke on Tuesday, as the Delta variant coronavirus continues to cause late-summer problems across the country, with rising case numbers, dwindling numbers of ICU beds, and lagging vaccination rates.
Texas has been particularly hard hit, including Harris County, where the meetings were to take place at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center.
"We must regret to inform you that we have decided to cancel the 2021 Annual Meeting & Exhibits," the NRA said in a statement posted to its website and on social media. "We make this difficult decision after analyzing relevant data regarding COVID-19 in Harris County, Texas."
The cancellation applies to all NRA events scheduled in Houston. The decision was made was after "consulting with medical professionals, local officials, major sponsors and exhibitors, and many NRA members," the statement said. Info about a reschedule date will be released when available.
In the end, as case numbers escalate in Texas—including the infection reported earlier this month with fully vaccinated Texas Gov. Greg Abbot—the risk was too great, despite what is seen as a troubled landscape with an anti-gun Presidential administration, an ongoing ammunition supply shortage, and rising crime rates and increasing violence across the nation.
While the meeting would have been welcomed news for firearms enthusiasts and Second Amendment supporters, the specter of a gathering of tens of thousands in a location with COVID-19 troubles was too much for the organization to ignore. Also hard to ignore is the show's impact on troubled businesses who would have benefited from the gathering, as they try to recover from the lockdowns and lost revenue of 2020 while the pandemic raged across the globe.
Continued the NRA statement, "The NRA Annual Meeting welcomes tens of thousands of people, and involves many events, meetings, and social gatherings. Among the highlights of our annual meeting are acres of exhibit space featuring the latest and greatest firearms, the display of countless accessories, and the offering of adventures and group gatherings that many travel hundreds, and some even thousands, of miles to experience. We realize that it would prove difficult, if not impossible, to offer the full guest experience that our NRA members deserve."
The Surge Returns
After a spring and summer when COVID-19 numbers declined with the arrival of vaccinations, the outdoors world had appeared to be getting back to normal as shows and events resumed after mostly being canceled a year ago.
One of those was the 51st Bassmaster Classic, which was held in Fort Worth, Texas, in mid-June with more than 147,000 fishing fans—the second largest Classic attendance on record—gathering to watch Hank Cherry win his second consecutive event.
Following the Classic, the inaugural Ducks Unlimited Expo was held in Fort Worth at the Texas Motor Speedway, drawing large crowds of hunters, outdoors enthusiasts, and country music fans to an event that was largely uneventful in terms of alarming health news.
A few weeks later in July, the Pope and Young Club held its convention successfully in Reno, Nev., as did the annual ICAST fishing trade show in Orlando.
And this month, in gatherings in San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Houston, the Texas Trophy Hunters Association pulled off its annual Hunters Extravaganza events across the Lone Star State with good crowds in attendance.
But since the Delta variant has surged across much of the nation, bringing the COVID-19 pandemic back to the front of news cycles as case numbers, hospitalizations, and ICU occupancy spiked sharply with the highest numbers of the entire pandemic occurring in some cases. There were even reports of some prominent outdoorsmen being sickened by the virus, including several professional bass anglers who were admitted to ICU units despite relatively youthful age.
The sudden cancellation of the NRA Annual Meetings this week may cause some to wonder what the escalating pandemic might mean this fall and winter for other gatherings, such as the International Fly Tackle Dealers Show in Salt Lake City, the ATA Archery Trade Show next January in Louisville, and the SHOT Show in Las Vegas this winter.
For now, any future problems between COVID-19 and scheduled events remains nothing more than speculation. But there's no speculation in regards to the NRA Annual Meetings since the Delta variant was too much to overcome despite hopes to the contrary after the 2020 meetings were canceled in Nashville last year.
"The NRA's top priority is ensuring the health and well-being of our members, staff, sponsors, and supporters," the organization said in the statement. "We are mindful that NRA Annual Meeting patrons will return home to family, friends and co-workers from all over the country, so any impacts from the virus could have broader implications. Those are among the reasons why we decided to cancel our 2021 event."
The NRA indicated its desire to return to Houston, it is turning its attention to next year:
"The NRA looks forward to a Celebration of Freedom in Louisville in May 2022. In the meantime, we will support many other NRA local events and smaller gatherings—in a manner that is protective of our members and celebrates our Second Amendment freedom. … We wish continued health and safety to our entire NRA family."