The last time the National Rifle Association came to Charlotte, then-NRA President Charlton Heston thrust a musket in the air and shouted what would become a signature slogan: "From my cold, dead hands!"
Now the NRA is back.
The city's largest-ever convention opens Thursday at the Charlotte Convention Center. Organizers expect up to 70,000 visitors to pump at least $20 million into local businesses. So packed are hotels that even Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps had a hard time finding a room for this weekend's UltraSwim.
"It's bigger than anything we've had," said Moira Quinn, a vice president of Charlotte Center City Partners.
Four hundred firearms manufacturers, collectors and other vendors will set up on 300,000 square feet of exhibit space. Speakers include Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, broadcaster Glenn Beck and Chuck Norris.
Since its last visit a decade ago, the NRA has been riding high as American attitudes about guns have changed.
Last fall, a Gallup Poll found American support for tighter controls on gun sales at an all-time low of 44 percent, down 34 points since 1990. A February poll by a liberal-leaning group found the NRA held in higher esteem than the president, Congress or either major political party.
"The Second Amendment, the freedom of Americans to own firearms, is probably in the best shape it's been," NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said Tuesday. He credits what he calls the NRA's "historic restoration" in part to over-reaching by Democrats during the Clinton administration.
Two gun-control measures - the Brady law establishing a waiting period for handgun purchases and an assault weapons ban - passed during the Clinton years.
Police say they know of no planned protests. On Saturday, the Baptist Peace Fellowship will hold a forum on ending gun violence at St. Peter's Catholic Church.
Across town, gun dealer Larry Hyatt plans to run free shuttles to the convention from his store.