NRA opens Texas gun convention after Uvalde school massacre; Former President Donald Trump is scheduled to speak

HOUSTON — The National Rifle Association begins its annual convention in Houston on Friday, and leaders of the powerful gun rights lobby group are preparing to “think about” — and shrug off any blame for — the fatal shooting earlier this week at 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Former President Donald Trump and other top Republicans are expected to speak at the three-day firearms marketing and advocacy event, which is expected to draw protesters fed up with gun violence.

Some scheduled speakers and performers have pulled out, including two Texas lawmakers and “American Pie” singer Don McLean, who said “it would be disrespectful” to continue his act after the country’s recent mass shooting.

As President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats continue to call for tougher gun laws, NRA board member Phil Journey said the focus should be on better mental health care and trying to prevent gun violence. He said he would not support banning or restricting access to firearms.

The NRA said in an online statement that gun show attendees will “reflect” on the Uvalde school shooting, “pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members and pledge to redouble our commitment to keeping our schools safe.” “.

People who wanted to attend on Thursday picked up registration badges and bought NRA souvenirs like t-shirts that read “Suns Out Guns Out.” Police had already erected metal barriers across from the convention center in a park where protesters are expected to gather on Friday.

Gary Francis traveled from Racine, Wisconsin with his wife and friends to attend the NRA meeting. He said he spoke out against any gun control regulations in response to the Uvalde shooting.

“What happened there is obviously tragic,” he said. “But the NRA had nothing to do with it. The people who come here had nothing to do with it.”

Texas has seen a string of mass shootings in recent years. During this time, the Republican-led Legislature and the Governor relaxed gun laws.

There is precedent for the NRA to rally amid local grief and controversy. The organization conducted an abridged version of their 1999 Denver meeting about a week after the fatal Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. Actor Charlton Heston, then NRA President, told attendees that “horrible acts” should not become opportunities to curtail constitutional rights and condemned critics for labeling NRA members as “bad guys”.

Rocky Marshall, a former NRA board member, said that while the tragedy in Uvalde “puts the meeting in a bad light”, it was not a reason to cancel it. Marshall said gun rights advocates and opponents might be able to reduce gun violence by focusing on factors such as mental illness or school safety.

“Throwing rocks at the NRA doesn’t trigger the next mass shooting,” he said. “Throwing rocks at people who hate guns isn’t going to trigger the next mass shooting.”

But country singer Larry Gatlin, who canceled his scheduled appearance at the event, said he hopes “the NRA will reconsider some of its outdated and ill-considered positions.”

“While I agree with most of the NRA’s positions, I’ve come to believe that while background checks wouldn’t stop every madman with a gun, it’s at least a step in the right direction,” Gatlin said.

Country singers Lee Greenwood and Larry Stewart also retired, Variety reported.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that NRA leaders are “contributing to the gun violence problem, not trying to solve it.” She accused them of representing the interests of arms manufacturers “who market weapons of war to young adults.”

Two Republican lawmakers from Texas who were scheduled to speak Friday — US Senator John Cornyn and US Rep. Dan Crenshaw — are no longer attending as their staffers said changes in their schedules.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was scheduled to attend, will speak at the convention via recorded video instead, his spokesman told The Dallas Morning News.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was listed as a speaker, and Trump said Wednesday he still intends to attend. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, is also sticking to her plans to speak at Friday’s NRA event.

Although personal firearms are permitted at the convention, the NRA said guns are not allowed during the meeting with Trump due to Secret Service security protocols.

Several groups have said they will hold protests outside the convention center.

“This is not the time or place for this gathering,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL, a Houston-based civil rights group that plans to attend protests. “Not only must we have thoughts and prayers from lawmakers, but we must take action to address this public health crisis that is affecting our communities.”

Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Abbott in the 2022 Texas governor’s race, said he will attend a protest outside of Congress on Friday.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, said the city has an obligation to host the NRA event, which has been under contract for more than two years. But he urged politicians to skip it.

“You can’t pray and offer condolences one day and go out and advocate for guns the next. That’s wrong,” Turner said.

Shannon Watts, the founder of gun control group Moms Demand Action, said she wasn’t surprised the NRA wasn’t canceling their meeting.

“The real question now is which elected officials will choose to side with the violence and kiss the ring in Houston this weekend, rather than side with the communities clamoring for public safety,” said Watts.


David A. Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. NRA opens Texas gun convention after Uvalde school massacre; Former President Donald Trump is scheduled to speak

Laura Coffey

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