By most any measure, the 142nd annual meeting of the National Rifle Association in Houston was a success, but the victory lap mood in the room could set up gun owners for a huge disappointment.
Coming five months after the Dec. 17, 2012, Sandy Hook School Massacre in Newtown, Conn., there was no sense that President Obama, the Democratic Party and the billionaire mayor of America's largest city do not yet realize they have been defeated.
David A. Keene, the outgoing NRA president and the former head of the American Conservative Union, said before the gathering last weekend that "the attendance will be somewhere between 80 and 100,000," he said. "If it's 80, it'll be the largest convention we have ever held."
Keene has a right to be proud because attendance set a record. He was also central to the NRA's strategy of resistance -- a break from past practices, where the association sought to craft a third way compromise, or agree to a truce in exchange for a carve-out for its members. It was a page from Keene's days at ACU.
"Our position was that we were not giving up on anything," he said. "We were going to fight this to the end -- as more people mobilized from February on, look what happened: People began to realize that the whole anti-gun narrative was wrong -- you remember -- the NRA was dead, it just didn't matter, the members were leaving, they all agreed with President Obama and his 'quote' common-sense solutions."
The victory lap mood at the NRA convention contrasted with how things were when Obama announced his Jan. 16 executive actions against gun rights in the middle of the weeklong Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show.
The SHOT Show is the annual 30,000-exhibitor festival put on by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the association of the firearms and ammunition industries.
It was surreal as NSSF staffers watched the president from Las Vegas as he insisted to the American people that had they been to Newtown, Conn., they would support him.
The critical difference between the NRA annual meeting and SHOT Show is that SHOT Show is for dealers and retailers and not for consumers. At the NRA conventions, members are justly concerned about their gun rights, but at SHOT Show they were concerned with their businesses.
"Folks at SHOT Show thought with Obama winning and gun owners and the Second Amendment were on the ropes, and that we would have to save anything that we could," Keene said.
"I watched PBS the night Obama gave his initial diatribe against the Second Amendment and I was watching Mark Shields afterwards saying: It's over for the NRA, everyone agrees with the president, members are leaving in droves -- that happened to be, unknown to Mark, the biggest membership day in the history of the National Rifle Association -- 58,000 people called and joined that day."
When that narrative collapsed, so did the Obama intuitive, according to Keene.
But chances are, there will be another spree shooting for the White House and the media to spin America into another gun-panic.
When that happens, there is nothing to stop Obama from signing the United Nations Small Arms Treaty and to begin incorporating its purposes into "executive actions" and regulatory bloodstream. Then, look for ratification in the lame duck congressional session after the 2014 midterm elections.
Even more pressing, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., conflated the regular two-step voting process into one step with a 60-vote threshold for the failed April 17 gun control amendments, his "motion to reconsider" will be a privileged motion immune to filibuster or amendment and requiring only a simple majority for passage. Remember, the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment that failed in April was on a 54-46.
For all of the congratulations and sharing of credit at the NRA convention, there was precious little discussion of the real fights ahead -- and that the very fight they think they won, they may now be closer to losing.
Neil W. McCabe is editor of the weekly Guns & Patriots e-letter, a former senior reporter for Human Events, and was deployed to Iraq as an Army combat historian.