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National Rifle Association annual meeting gets underway after year of political victories

National Rifle Association members gather in Indianapolis with spokesman saying the group's strength comes from its commitment to expanding gun rights.

By
Frances Burns
Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA) Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks during the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). (Molly Riley/UPI)
Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA) Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks during the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). (Molly Riley/UPI) | License Photo

INDIANAPOLIS, April 24 (UPI) -- The National Rifle Association began its annual convention Thursday in Indianapolis after a year that saw many states relax gun laws.

The organization claims 5 million members and says its strength comes from their enthusiasm. But the NRA also raises a lot of money and some events in Indianapolis are limited to members of the "Ring of Freedom," which requires a donation of at least $1,000 for the lowest level, the Thomas Paine Society, and at least $1 million for the "Golden Ring of Freedom," although the money includes a tailored gold jacket.

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"Everyone thinks our strength comes from money. It doesn't," spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told the Indianapolis Star, as the organization prepares to launch its annual convention in Indianapolis. "Our strength is truly in our membership. We have a savvy and loyal voting bloc, and they show up election after election after election."

The massacres at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in July 2012 and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., five months later appeared to create more momentum for gun regulation, especially background checks on buyers. But the NRA, which argues that more gun ownership increases public safety, appears to have prevailed.

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Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill Wednesday that allows gun owners to bring their weapons to churches, schools and bars, among other places. Last year, two Colorado state legislators who had voted for stronger state gun laws lost their seats in recall elections.

The Pew Research Center, in a fact sheet released Thursday, said polls show that supporters of gun rights are far more likely than opponents to donate money to organizations that support their cause, to talk to public officials about the issue and to make statements on social media. Overall, 45 percent of gun rights supporters had done at least one of the three compared to 26 percent of opponents.

The level of gun ownership in the United States has actually declined in recent years, mostly because fewer people hunt. A Pew survey last year found that 37 percent of respondents said there is a gun in their household and 24 percent said they own at least one.

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In 2013, 48 percent of those who owned guns said they did so for protection and 32 percent for hunting. In 1999, 49 percent of the respondents told an ABC/Washington Post poll they owned a gun for hunting and 26 percent for protection.

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