HOUSTON ( Associated Press) — The National Rifle Association began its annual convention in Houston on Friday, and leaders of the powerful gun-rights lobbying group are gearing up to “reflect” — and remove any blame for the fatal shooting – Earlier this week an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, had 19 children and two teachers.
Former President Donald Trump and other prominent Republicans are scheduled to address a three-day firearms marketing and advocacy event that is expected to attract protesters fed up with gun violence.
There has been support from some scheduled speakers and performers, including two Texas lawmakers and “American Pie” singer Don McLean, who said “it would be humiliating” to go ahead with their act following the country’s latest mass shooting.
While in Congress President Joe Biden and Democrats have renewed calls for strict gun lawsNRA board member Phil Journey said the focus should be on better mental health care and trying to stop gun violence. He said he would not support banning or limiting access to firearms.
The NRA said in an online statement that those participating in the gun show would “reflect” the Uvalde school shooting, “pray for the victims, recognize our Patriot members, and redouble our commitment to making our schools safe.” will resolve to do so.”
People planning to participate picked up registration badges on Thursday and shopped for NRA souvenirs, such as T-shirts that say “Sun Out Guns Out.” Police had already installed metal barriers in a park across the street from the convention center, where protesters are expected to gather on Friday.
Gary Francis traveled with his wife and friends from Racine, Wisconsin to attend the NRA meeting. He said he opposed any gun control regulations in response to the Uvalde shooting.
“What happened there is obviously sad,” he said. “But the NRA had nothing to do with it. The people who came here had nothing to do with it.
Texas has experienced a series of mass shootings in recent years, During that time, the Republican-led legislature and governor relaxed gun laws.
There is precedent for the gathering of the NRA amid local mourning and controversy. The organization moved forward with a shortened version of their 1999 meeting in Denver, about a week after the fatal shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. Actor Charlton Heston, then president of the NRA, told attendees that “horrific acts” should not become opportunities to limit constitutional rights and criticized critics for electing NRA members as “villains”.
Rocky Marshall, a former NRA board member, said that although the tragedy at Uvalde “puts the meeting in a bad light,” it is not a reason to cancel it. Marshall said gun-rights advocates and opponents could probably reduce gun violence if they focused on factors such as mental illness or school safety.
“Throwing stones at the NRA doesn’t solve the next mass shooting,” he said. “Throwing stones at people who hate guns will not solve the next mass shooting.”
But country music singer Larry Gatlin, who pulled out of a planned appearance at the event, said he expected “the NRA to reconsider some of its old and ill-considered positions.”
Gatlin said, “While I agree with most of the positions held by the NRA, I have become convinced that, while a background check will not stop every madman with a gun, it is at least a step in the right direction.”
Country singers Lee Greenwood and Larry Stewart also withdrew, Variety informed of.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that NRA leaders are “contributing to the problem of gun violence and not trying to solve it.” She accused them of representing the interests of gun manufacturers “who are marketing weapons of war to young adults.”
Two Republican Texas lawmakers who were scheduled to speak on Friday – US Sen. John Cornyn and US Rep. Dan Crenshaw – are no longer in attendance because of changes to their schedules by their staff.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was set to attend, would instead address the conference by pre-recorded video, his spokesman told The Dallas Morning News.,
Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was listed as a speaker, and Trump said Wednesday that he still intends to attend. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, also sticks to her plan to speak Friday at the NRA event.
Although personal firearms are allowed at the convention, the NRA said guns would not be allowed during a session featuring Trump due to Secret Service security protocols.
Several groups have said they plan to hold protests outside the convention centre.
“This is not the time or place for this conference,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of the Houston-based civil rights group FIEL, which plans to participate in the protests. “Not only should we be thinking and praying for legislators, but we need action to address this public health crisis that is affecting our communities.”
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Abbott in the 2022 Texas gubernatorial race, said he would attend a protest outside the convention on Friday.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, said the city is obliged to host the NRA event, which has been under contract for more than two years. But he urged politicians to drop it.
“You can’t pray and send condolences one day and then fire guns the next day. That’s wrong,” Turner said.
Shannon Watts, founder of gun-control group Moms Demand Action, said she’s not surprised the NRA isn’t canceling its meeting.
“The real question now is which elected officials will favor violence and kiss the ring instead of favoring communities that cry for public safety in Houston this weekend,” Watts said.
David A. Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri.
More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings