Atlanta, GA – Despite the cheerful-looking "welcome NRA" banners posted around downtown Atlanta, quiet alerts have been given to Atlanta and Fulton County police departments to be braced for "anything" as the NRA prepares to kick off their annual meeting in the heart of the South's largest- and most liberal- metropolis.
It looks like blue skies and fair seas for the NRA's conclave in Atlanta, but officials are very concerned that things won't stay calm until the NRA and its estimated 80,000 attendees head out of town on Sunday evening.
While NRA members, media, and exhibitors have been preparing for their annual celebration of the Second Amendment and everything else related to guns, officials are quietly crossing their fingers that the "spontaneous" anti-Trump protesters don't provoke an open conflict with the NRA members or manage to infiltrate the NRA's Leadership Forums and disrupt them. If either happens, the potential for things to quickly escalate is causing some anxiety.
President Donald J. Trump's appearance at the NRA has kicked off an unprecedented amount of additional back-channel chatter between the various police, fire and emergency service groups in Atlanta. And not all that chatter, I'm told by sources in federal law enforcement, has been positive.
For many of the residents inhabiting this decidedly liberal city, simply hearing Trump's name triggers angry reactions. The thought that the man many of them say "stole" the highest office in the land is coming to "their city" is an affront that simply can't be overcome, even by officers who normally manage to maintain a professional manner in some very awkward situations. That's a serious concern to law enforcement at all levels. Consequently, there are more concerns than anyone's ready to acknowledge in the local government.
But the police presence is decidedly stepped up for this particular event.
And, police officers are on edge, because they know this group of conventioneers is decidedly different from most other groups.
As one officer told me as I was checking into my hotel, "this is one of the first times I've been told to assume that everyone here will be at least as well- armed and trained as me."
"That," the young officer told me, "makes me relieved -and nervous."
It probably sounds funny to the majority of our readers, but if you're a police officer unaccustomed to dealing with crowds where guns are probabilities and not possibilities, it makes for nervous times.
Officers tell me they're especially concerned that the "less wholesome residents"of the city may - especially later in the evenings after adult beverages have been consumed - mistake a slightly tipsy conventioneer for a defenseless victim. That could have serious repercussions for all involved parties.
Most of the attendees I've seen are surprised at how crowded downtown Atlanta really is, but they don't seem overly concerned about anything other than dealing with the expected crush of people when the doors open in the morning.
I haven't asked the criminal element their opinion, but I have already noticed that Atlanta's panhandlers –a fact of life here, as in any big city- are a little less pushy than normal.
Hopefully, all this is the normal case of stage fright and we can joke about it all in Monday's wrapup of the NRA's Annual Meetings & Exhibits.
Regardless, we'll keep you posted.