"We're on back order," she says. "It's incredible."

Meanwhile, over at Daniel Defense's display, AR-15 style assault rifles — 100 percent American made — reign supreme. A rep for the company says about half the customers want to shoot for recreation, but the other half have self-defense in mind.

"It has to do with uncertainty and economic conditions," the spokesman says. "It's about boosting personal safety. Having an assault rifle is a cheap life-insurance policy."

Megan Gilliland

That may be true, unless you covet something like the titanium .308-caliber assault rifle at the NEMO Arms booth, which retails for $95,904. Vice president Adyn Sonju says her Montana-based company built only one model, simply to show the industry it could sculpt a gun from the unruly metal.

Outside of the exhibit hall and up on the second floor, hundreds of people have queued up for a Glenn Beck book-signing. One of them is an off-duty Chicago policeman. He says he's lost faith in the criminal-justice system and thinks a law like "stand your ground" for Illinois would help matters.

Further ahead in line, the mayor of a small town in Illinois says he thinks concealed-carry would help his state. Further back, a Kansas couple says that laws already on the books ought to be better enforced.

These views — anecdotal to be sure — complicate the picture painted by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who just last Friday wrote on the Daily Beast website: "The NRA wants to create a nation where disputes are settled by guns instead of gavels, and where suspects are shot by civilians instead of arrested by police."

None of the dozen NRA members interviewed by RFT — all affable and open — seemed to want that. None wished to become the next George Zimmerman, the Florida man accused of shooting the unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin. But each feared to some degree that cops, courts and politicians were dropping the ball on public safety. And they feared that those same parties also backed policies threatening to strip a legit gun owner of the ability to pick up the slack and defend herself.

Of course, it's the NRA leadership that stokes such anxieties. And it's the NRA leadership that presents itself as the only real solution.

"If you want a glimpse of a genuine nightmare for America," Wayne LaPierre began in his aforementioned essay last November on the alleged Obama conspiracy, "just look at what's headed our way."

President Obama's plan to take away your guns, LaPierre predicted, will "succeed unless you recognize it, understand it, and take action now to stop it. The best way you could do so is by carrying your new 2012 membership card in your wallet.... For the sake of our Right to Keep and Bear Arms, it's vital that you renew your NRA membership, upgrade your NRA membership and urge others to join NRA."

Since LaPierre made that November appeal, Smith & Wesson's share price has surged as NRA members heed his warning and stock up while they still can. The same goes for gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co. which just a few weeks ago found itself so inundated with orders it had to turn down buyers.

All the better for the NRA: Ruger happened to be nearing the conclusion of its "One Million Gun Challenge," wherein the company would donate $1 to the NRA for every gun sold in a twelve-month period in the hope of becoming the first manufacturer ever to build and ship 1 million firearms in a year.

On Friday a Ruger executive presents an oversize check to the NRA with an oversize gift of $1,253,700. It was a win-win. The NRA sowed fear, customers bought guns from Ruger and Ruger endowed the NRA. The cycle was complete.

Asked what gun sales really drove Ruger past its goal, a spokesman says, "That is information we don't release because our competitors would like to know it also."

On Saturday night Mitt Romney receives an influential, if backhanded, endorsement from the headline performer, Glenn Beck.

"Let's get it out who I endorse for president," Beck tells the Edward Jones Dome crowd. "My shoe. Anyone but Barack Obama, including my shoe." Later, he gets serious.

"Mitt Romney is our guy. Haven't been a Mitt Romney fan, [but] I've done a lot of research. I've looked into his past. Mitt Romney is my guy because Mitt Romney is not a communist!"

Beck closes his show with a quick parting joke: "Vote Shoe 2012." Ouch.

Other convention heavyweights proved more charitable. The next day the NRA posts on its site a vaguely insurrectionist interview with board member Ted Nugent, the 1970s guitar god whose hits include "Cat Scratch Fever."

"Mitt Romney is one of us now," Nugent insists when interviewed on the NRA News stage in the middle of the exhibit hall. "And I know it's a hard pill to swallow because of what Mitt has done in the past. But I had a long talk with him."

Nugent says he extracted from the governor a pledge of no more gun or ammo laws, and adds that a vote for anyone other than Romney is a vote for the "vile, evil, freedom-hating" White House incumbent.

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