Former President Donald Trump will speak to members of the nation’s largest gun-rights group early next month.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) announced on Monday the Republican frontrunner for the 2024 nomination will attend the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on February 9th. The group said Trump would be speaking at a newly-created event called the NRA Presidential Forum.
“President Trump’s unwavering support for the Second Amendment, and his track record of protecting the rights of gun owners make him an exemplary speaker for this momentous event,” Charles Cotton, the group’s president, said in a statement. “His fellow NRA members can’t wait to hear from him for the eighth time.”
The group did not say if former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, the other candidate left in the Republican primary race, was also invited to speak.
The event’s announcement comes as Trump has increased his already sizable lead in polling after winning the Iowa Caucuses last week. It signals the NRA plans to remain closely aligned with Trump should he recapture the Republican nomination, and the timing of the speech provides the gun-rights group with an opportunity to make an early endorsement–especially if Trump wins the upcoming New Hampshire primary. The event has the potential to be the culmination of a contest where the Republican candidates paid little attention to gun policy.
The NRA was one of the few major outside groups to endorse Trump before the end of the 2016 Republican primary and one of the only ones to put more than $50 million into getting him elected. It was rewarded with an ear in the White House, even if it was one the group’s leaders had to persuade against supporting gun-control measures like a “Red Flag law” or “assault weapons” ban. The relationship resulted in few legislative accomplishments and an administrative ban on bump stocks that has since been found unconstitutional, but also the appointment of three of the six Supreme Court justices who came down on the NRA’s side in the landmark New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen case.
The event comes at a tumultuous time beyond the political arena for both Trump and the NRA. The former has been indicted on dozens of federal felony charges for his role in the January 6th Capitol Riot, attempts to overturn the 2020 election, and refusing to turn over classified documents after leaving office. The latter is currently on trial in New York over allegations its top leadership diverted millions upon millions of members’ dollars toward lavish personal expenses, including private flights and luxury suits.
Each faces an uncertain future thanks to those legal troubles, but they’ve already created serious issues regardless of their outcomes.
Trump’s political operation spent much of the money it raised in 2023 on fighting the cases, which extend well beyond the multiple criminal trials, rather than the campaign itself. Additionally, while he has maintained a huge lead over his individual primary opponents, a sizable minority of Republican voters have thus far backed somebody else, unlike during his unsuccessful 2020 re-election campaign.
The NRA is in a similar situation. Its revenue has been slashed while its legal costs have skyrocketed. It has lost over a million members since the corruption allegations against its leadership first surfaced.
But Trump and the NRA still have the potential to be potent political forces. President Joe Biden’s attempts to restrict firearms, including the first new federal legislative restrictions on who can own a gun in decades and multiple ATF-imposed bans on popular types of guns and accessories, have not helped improve his fledgling approval ratings. Biden and Trump have hovered close to each other in polling of a 2020 rematch, with Trump currently enjoying a lead in the Real Clear Politics average of polls.
The NRA also remains the largest gun group in the country and can mobilize a substantial number of gun owners. In fact, the group said more than 200,000 people and 1,000 exhibitors attended the nine-day Outdoor Show in 2023. That makes it one of the largest outdoor shows in the world.
With Trump on the docket to speak during this year’s event, it could draw even more.