This weekend I went to the National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Nashville, Tennessee, my hometown. I’m an editorial cartoonist; I sit at home drawing and I rarely go to big conventions. The only thing I have to compare the NRA to is the San Diego Comic-Con, and I thought the NRA convention stacked up pretty well to Comic-Con.

The NRA convention is half the size of Comic-Con. The crowd was certainly different, with the NRA sporting more beer bellies and gray hair than Comic-Con. Both the NRA and Comic-Con are mostly male, and both are full of fervent fans. It is a lot easier to park and get a hotel room at the NRA convention, and it is much cheaper and easier to get into the NRA than Comic-Con, which costs well more than ten times the $25 it costs to join the NRA and attend the NRA convention. Comic-Con sells out months in advance; anyone can go to the NRA at the last minute – like me.

There isn’t much religion at Comic-Con, although it isn’t unusual to hear people exclaim, “Oh my God” when they see the length of the line to meet the cast members of “The Big Bang Theory.”

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Everyone in a crowd of thousands at the NRA Annual Meeting held hands, bowed their heads and followed along in a prayer about how God has chosen the NRA to defend us against the “enemies of freedom.” I was actually near the front of the room, where I took this photo. That’s the NRA’s executive officers on the stage in the distance, holding hands. Click on the photo to enlarge.

There’s lots of religion at NRA conventions. The Saturday morning NRA annual meeting began with everyone in the audience holding hands and bowing their heads as someone on the stage prayed about how God has chosen the NRA to lead the fight against the “enemies of freedom” who, we were later told, are President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg, in that order.

There are enemies at Comic-Con too; scattered through the crowd are assorted Darth Vaders, storm-troopers, super-villains and monsters. Years ago there were Klingons everywhere, but the Klingons have dwindled in recent years, and now they are rare. My effort to build up my Klingon vocabulary has clearly been a waste of time. “Ghay’cha’!”

There was an anti-gun protest group, in town for the NRA convention, that had trouble making a dinner reservation. I’m told they were unwelcome at nearby restaurants, and their group had to drive thirty minutes out of Nashville, to Murfreesboro, for dinner. It is also difficult to make a dinner reservation at Comic-Con.

The exhibit floors at the NRA and Comic-Con are fascinating. One NRA exhibit I enjoyed featured videos of cool stuff getting shot, including row after row of watermelons, which made impressive explosions. Rows of televisions being shot were much less interesting than the watermelons. The legislature in Tennessee is debating allowing exploding targets. Tennessee already allows for the sale of fantastic fireworks – the aerial kind that would start forest fires if they were allowed in flammable California – but in Tennessee, fireworks are wholesome fun. Explosions are popular at Comic-Con too (the Death Star comes to mind). Alas, real, legal explosions in California are just the stuff of dreams.

Tennessee’s Republican legislature has been pandering to the NRA in the weeks leading up to the convention; they are close to passing a “Guns in Parks” bill that would prohibit cities from banning guns in their municipal parks. Most of the prospective Republican presidential candidates gave speeches at the NRA convention on the first day. At the annual meeting, many mentions of vile Democrats were met with hisses from the enthusiastic, Republican crowd, who were equally angry about Islamic extremists, defending the border with Mexico, and President Obama as they were about threats of gun control. The NRA convention is about much more than guns; it is about a broad agenda that is Republican, conservative, and Christian.

The same mission-creep is apparent at Comic-Con, which should be about comic books, but has grown to be about anything entertainment related, which may have nothing to do with comics. Any TV show. Any movie. Whatever. Are there some TV stars from a detective, procedural show doing a panel? Yes? Let’s go stand in line! My God, the line is so long.

As the Klingons would say, “petaQ!”

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