The last time the National Rifle Association came to Charlotte, then-NRA president Charlton Heston thrust a musket in the air and shouted what would become a signature slogan: "From my cold, dead hands!"
Now the NRA is back.
The city's largest-ever convention opens Thursday at the uptown Charlotte Convention Center. Organizers expect up to 70,000 visitors to pump at least $20 million into the local economy. So packed are hotels that even Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps had a hard time finding a room for this weekend's UltraSwim.
"It's bigger than anything we've had," said Moira Quinn of Charlotte Center City Partners.
Some 400 firearms manufacturers, collectors and other vendors will occupy 300,000 square feet of exhibit space.
Speakers include former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, broadcaster Glenn Beck and actor Chuck Norris.
Based on an NRA survey, 4 out of 5 of the convention visitors will be men.
More than 3 out of every 4 go shooting at least six times a year.
Almost 60 percent will travel at least 200 miles to get here.
Held in high esteem
Since its last visit a decade ago, the NRA has been riding high as American attitudes about guns have changed.
Last fall, a Gallup Poll found American support for tighter controls on gun sales at an all-time low of 44 percent, down 34 points since 1990. A February poll by the liberal-leaning Democracy Corps-Third Way found the NRA held in higher esteem than the president, Congress or either major political party.
A 2008 landmark Supreme Court decision struck down a District of Columbia ban on handguns and affirmed an individual's right to own a gun.
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