By Michael Cass / The Tennessean
With the National Rifle Association set to bring its annual convention to Nashville in 2015, some political activists hope they can convince the city to drop the event in light of Friday's mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
But doing so could cost Nashville dearly in both cancellation penalties and missed revenues.
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum, a Democratic political consultant, said she's putting together an online petition to ask Mayor Karl Dean to retract the city's invitation to the NRA. McFadyen-Ketchum, a former teacher, said Nashville should do its part to put a financial stranglehold on the gun-rights lobbying group after a young man with an assault rifle killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders, at a school in Newtown, Conn.
"It all comes down to money," she said. "I just think kids are more important - and teachers.... I don't think we need that money. Let them go somewhere else."
The city announced two years ago that the NRA is expected to bring 48,000 out-of-town visitors to the Music City Center and local hotels, restaurants and bars in April 2015. Thousands more are expected to drive in from the region. By a long shot, that's the biggest convention booked so far at the new convention center, which will open next spring.
Breaking the agreement could force the city to pay penalties to the NRA. The Metro Convention Center Authority recently paid more than $650,000 to two groups because it couldn't get the Music City Center ready in time for their events.
Nashville officials also could be wary of rejecting a convention on political grounds, which could lead to future lobbying efforts against other controversial groups and hurt the city's reputation in hospitality circles, negating the impact of the $585 million convention center.
Through a spokeswoman, Dean declined to comment. The mayor said in 2010 that the NRA event would be "the biggest convention this city has ever had."
McFadyen-Ketchum said Nashville is and should be a welcoming place, and she knows some people will point to the business the city would lose.
"But there is a line - for me," she said.
Councilman Jerry Maynard, another Democrat, said he supports bringing the NRA to town, however.
"Having the NRA come or not come doesn't end our responsibility to pass laws to protect our citizens," Maynard said.
Dean spokeswoman Bonna Johnson said McFadyen-Ketchum and just two other people called the mayor's office Monday.
After McFadyen-Ketchum urged friends on her Facebook page Friday to call Dean, several said they would do that. But attorney Martha Boyd wrote that activists should welcome the NRA instead - and make the convention one that the organization "will never forget."
"Now let's make them come and spend their money and wish they had never heard of us," Boyd added.
McFadyen-Ketchum said she'd prefer not to spend the next two years organizing protests. But she would do it if necessary to make her point.
"We will make it a remarkable and memorable meeting," she said. "And that's not going to be good for our city in some ways."
The NRA is scheduled to meet in Houston next year and Indianapolis in 2014.