Former President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders mocked Democrats and activists calling for change at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention on Friday.
The gathering in Houston this weekend is 280 miles east of Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school on Tuesday.
Law enforcement officials in Uvalde acknowledged that they had waited too long to enter the classroom where a gunman was shooting children and teachers, just hours before top Republicans were scheduled to speak in Houston.
However, Trump and other Republicans made no mention of these errors or their implications for proposals to place more armed police officers and teachers in schools.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott canceled his planned appearance at the NRA convention and instead pre-recorded a video dismissing calls for gun reform.
“Keep in mind that there are thousands of laws on the books across the country that limit the ownership or use of firearms, laws that have not stopped madmen from carrying out evil acts on innocent people in peaceful communities,” he said.
Trump called for a series of measures in his speech that largely mirrored what other Republicans had proposed throughout the day, including schools with a single entryway and armed guards stationed there, as well as exit-only fire escapes. He also stated that some teachers should be permitted to carry firearms.
“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” the former President said, echoing a remark made by Texas Senator Ted Cruz less than an hour earlier.
But Trump also acknowledged the political reality that gun rights supporters are a core constituency for Republicans, and particularly for the former President. “You are the heart and soul of our movement,” he said on Friday.
Meanwhile, Cruz blamed mass shootings on a “cultural sickness” that included fatherless children and video games. He believes that schools should have a single entrance guarded by multiple armed guards.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem slammed gun control advocates.
“Let me tell you the truth about the Second Amendment’s detractors. They have been educated in the ways of Marx and Lenin “She stated.
And, according to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, “if we as a nation were capable of legislating evil out of the hearts and minds of criminals who commit these heinous acts, we would have done it a long time ago.”
Americans are divided on gun control.
The tale of two Americas was on full display in downtown Houston, as protesters waved signs and shouted at NRA members as they entered the George R. Brown Convention Center for their meeting and exposition.
“NRA, go away,” a woman yelled repeatedly, her voice echoing through a bullhorn beneath the scorching sun.
“You go away,” yelled another woman as she crossed the street to enter the event.
It’s been three years since the NRA’s last convention, which was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and thousands of people descended on Houston to show their support for the Second Amendment and to shop in the massive exposition hall.
The NRA went big for its Texas meeting to commemorate its 150th anniversary, with a sign outside the convention center promising “14 acres of guns and gear.”
There were guns of all shapes and sizes on display, from antique pistols to automatic weapons, some camouflaged and others with American flags. Hundreds of vendors set up shop for the weekend, selling ammunition and various gun accessories.
Following the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the NRA canceled its exposition in nearby Denver. Despite the fact that Uvalde is only about 300 miles away, the exposition went on as planned this year, with the exception of Daniel Defense, the company that manufactured the weapon used in the Robb Elementary School shooting.
“We believe that promoting our products in Texas at the NRA meeting this week is not the appropriate time,” Steve Reed, vice president of marketing for Daniel Defense, told CNN.
In the space originally reserved for Daniel Defense, a Georgia company, a popcorn cart, a baked potato stand, and several tables and chairs were quickly set up.
That was the only noticeable change to the vast exposition hall following the shooting. However, notable country singers Lee Greenwood and Larry Gatlin were among those who canceled their appearances.
“I didn’t think it was a good time to go down to Houston and have a party with them digging 21 new graves in the valley of my precious, beloved Texas,” Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers told CNN.
Conversations with several NRA members, some from Texas and others who were in Houston for the weekend event, revealed respectful expressions of sympathy for the deaths at the Uvalde school. Despite this, people blamed the shooting on mental health issues and other issues rather than guns.
“It’s not that guns are inherently evil. Guns, like cars, are tools that can be used for good or evil “Dr. Elizabeth Tom, who traveled to Texas for the convention from Elko, Nevada, agreed. “Many more people are killed in car accidents, but no one says you have to wait for one or that all cars are evil because some people run over other people with them.”
Tom, an NRA member for about three decades, said she did not believe that stricter gun laws would prevent future massacres.
“I understand this may be somewhat controversial, and I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but if any of those teachers had been armed, this would have ended much sooner,” Tom told CNN. “We already have gun control measures in place. Shooting someone is already against the law, so I’m not sure what else they want.”
Not everyone in the room agreed.
Max Shirley, a member of the National Rifle Association from Round Rock, Texas, said he would support “reasonable measures” to break the cycle of school shootings. He believes the age limit for purchasing an automatic weapon should be raised to 21 and the ammunition clip size should be reduced.
“If the person you’re defending yourself against is not down or the threat is not diminished after 10 rounds or 10 shots,” Shirley told CNN. “Or you’re a lousy shooter.”
‘I can’t believe they’re still here after Uvalde,’ says the author.
Thousands gathered outside the convention center to protest gun control advocacy groups Moms Demand Action and March for Our Lives, as well as local teachers’ unions, Black Lives Matter chapters, and the Harris County Democratic Party.
Many in attendance were outraged that the NRA would hold its convention just days after a school shooting in the state.
“I can’t believe they’re still here after Uvalde,” Anastacia Castro, a 20-year-old college student whose brother was killed in a shooting last year, said. “By being here in the city, they insult victims of gun violence like me.”
Milan Narayan, a 17-year-old student who leads a Students Demand Action chapter at his high school, where he claims an accidental shooting occurred last year, said the NRA’s convention was booked well in advance.
“However, you cannot be tone-deaf. I mean, children have died “He stated.
The protesters’ signs reflected the rawness of their feelings following the Uvalde shooting, which occurred in a state that has seen a series of mass shootings in recent years, including 26 people killed at a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017 and 22 killed at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019 by a gunman targeting Latinos.
“I will vote you out because those 10-year-olds will never get to,” one sign said. “My little sister is afraid to go to school,” said another.
In speeches and interviews, those protesting in Houston on Friday focused on guns. Many people advocated for a ban on the sale of assault rifles.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat running against Abbott in the November midterm elections and who has called for “red flag” laws and a ban on the sale of AR-15s, attempted to reach out to NRA members.
“You are not our enemies, those attending the NRA convention across the street. We do not belong to you. We extend our hand, open and unarmed, in a gesture of peace and fellowship, inviting you to join us in ensuring that this never happens again in this country “During a speech at the protest, O’Rourke mentioned a football field away from the convention center. The day after the shooting, O’Rourke made headlines when he confronted Abbott and other officials at a news conference in Uvalde.
“But the time has come for you to respond and join us. We can’t keep waiting for you any longer, “He stated. “Those who will be killed in the next mass shooting unless we act are counting on us right now. So, join us now or risk being left behind.”
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