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NRA expected to draw thousands

Jackson Miller is only 3, but he's already a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.

The Owensville, Ind., youngster and his extended family planned their vacation around the 140th annual NRA Annual Meeting this weekend at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The family owns guns, shoots and hunts together and believes fervently in protecting the Second Amendment.

"Pittsburgh looks like a nice, big city, but we don't plan on doing much sightseeing while we're here," said Maggie Miller, Jackson's grandmother. "We're here for the seminars, to support the NRA and our right to own guns."

The national meeting, which opened on Thursday and ends Sunday, is expected to draw upward of 70,000 people to the city on its first return to Pittsburgh since 2004. Last year's convention in Charlotte, N.C., attracted more than 72,000 attendees.

There are 4 million registered NRA members in the United States, and 1 million of them live within a four-hour drive of Pittsburgh, said spokeswoman Rachel Parsons.

The event is projected to bring about $23.7 million to the Pittsburgh area from lodging, food and beverage sales, as well from entertainment, shopping, transportation and ancillary spending such as parking, said Craig Davis, vice president of sales and marketing for VisitPittsburgh.

The agency helped NRA members find rooms at more than 36 hotels between Downtown and Washington, Pa., Parsons said.

The NRA opened its store yesterday, displaying T-shirts, hats, mugs, shot glasses and books on self defense and use of handguns.

Today the exhibit hall -- featuring more than 400 manufacturers -- will display guns, ammunition, holsters, hunting clothing and accessories. Seminars on legal issues, pistol instruction and other topics also are being offered.

Gara and Gary Gifford of New Brighton came to the convention center for the "Antique Guns & Gold Showcase." There, experts from the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Va., and Universal Coin & Bullion in Beaumont, Texas, were on hand to evaluate guns and gold coins for historical significance.

Gary Gifford, a lifetime NRA member, had a revolver from 1865 passed to him from his grandfather, who was an Allegheny County court stenographer. The gun was evidence in a murder trial, and a judge offered the gun to Gifford's grandfather at the conclusion of the trial in 1910, Gary Gifford said.

It is engraved with the name of a constable and has other markings. The firearms experts told the Giffords it probably is worth about $500, but that if they do some research into the murder trial, the value could rise to about $1,000.

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