Houston, May 27 (PTI): The National Rifle Association began its annual convention in Houston on Friday amidst widespread protests, even as parents are grappling with questions on how law enforcement agencies responded to the deadly shooting at a school in Uvalde in Texas in which 19 children and 2 teachers were killed.
Former president Donald Trump and other leading Republicans are scheduled to address the three-day firearms marketing and advocacy event, which is expected to draw protesters fed up with gun violence. Republican Senator Ted Cruz is listed as a speaker besides Trump. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, also a Republican, is sticking to her plans to speak Friday at the NRA event.
In an interview to Salem radio network on Thursday, Trump reiterated his support for gun rights.
“It’s you know, interesting time to be making such a speech, frankly,” he said. “You have to protect your Second Amendment. You have to give that Second Amendment great protection because, without it, we would be a very dangerous country, frankly. More dangerous.” Though personal firearms are allowed at the convention, the NRA said guns would not be permitted during the session featuring Trump because of Secret Service security protocols.
Two Republican Texas lawmakers — John Cornyn and Dan Crenshaw — who were scheduled to speak Friday are no longer attending due to what their staffs said were changes in their schedules. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who was slated to attend, will instead address the convention by prerecorded video, his spokesman said.
Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick said Friday morning that he has decided not to speak at an event breakfast after “prayerful consideration and discussion with NRA officials.” “While a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and an NRA member, I would not want my appearance today to bring any additional pain or grief to the families and all those suffering in Uvalde,” he said in a statement. “This is a time to focus on the families, first and foremost.” The meeting is the first for the troubled organisation since 2019, following a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic. The organisation has been trying to regroup following a period of serious legal and financial turmoil that included a failed bankruptcy effort, a class action lawsuit and a fraud investigation by New York’s attorney general.
Once among the most powerful political organisations in the country, the NRA has seen its influence wane following a significant drop in political spending.
Some scheduled speakers and performers have backed out, including “American Pie” singer Don McLean, who said “it would be disrespectful” to go ahead with his act in the aftermath of the country’s latest mass shooting.
Country music singer Larry Gatlin, who pulled out of planned appearance at the event, said he hopes “the NRA will rethink some of its outdated and ill-thought-out positions.” “While I agree with most of the positions held by the NRA, I have come to believe that, while background checks would not stop every madman with a gun, it is at the very least a step in the right direction,” Gatlin said. Country singers Lee Greenwood and Larry Stewart also withdrew.
While President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have renewed calls for stricter 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 wouldn’t support banning or limiting access to firearms.
The NRA said in an online statement that people attending the gun show will “reflect on” the Uvalde school shooting, “pray for the victims, recognise our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.” People planning to attend picked up registration badges Thursday and shopped for NRA souvenirs, such as T-shirts that say “Suns Out Guns Out.” Police already had set up metal barriers across the street from the convention centre, at a park where protesters are expected to gather Friday.
Texas has experienced a series of mass shootings in recent years. During that time, the Republican-led Legislature and governor have relaxed gun laws.
There is precedent for the NRA to gather amid local mourning and controversy. The organisation went ahead with a shortened version of its 1999 meeting in Denver roughly a week after the deadly shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. Actor Charlton Heston, the NRA president at that time, told attendees that “horrible acts” shouldn’t become opportunities to limit constitutional rights and he denounced critics for casting NRA members as “villains.” Several groups have said they planned to stage protests outside the convention centre. The organisations include, FIEL, Black Lives Matter Houston, Moms Demand Action and Interfaith group.
Leaders from the DNC, Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Beto O’ Rourke, along with healthcare workers and residents attended the protest. “This is not the time or the place to have this convention,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL, a Houston-based civil rights group that plans to participate in protests. “We must not just have thoughts and prayers from legislators, but rather 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 governor’s race, is attending a protest outside the convention.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner addressed the planned protests that are expected to take place outside GRB during the duration of the convention. He said there will be a designated “protest zone.” “You can’t pray and send condolences on one day and then be going and championing guns on the next. That’s wrong,” Turner said.
He said although there are concerns about cancelling the convention, “we don’t have that luxury or option to cancel due to the convention being on the books for two years.” He added that the city is contractually obligated to continue with its plans.
Shannon Watts, the founder of gun-control group Moms Demand Action, said she was not surprised the NRA is not cancelling its meeting.
“The real question now is which elected officials will choose to side with violence and go kiss the ring in Houston this weekend instead of siding with communities crying out for public safety,” Watts said. PTI SHK SCY
(This story is published as part of the auto-generated syndicate wire feed. No editing has been done in the headline or the body by ABP Live.)
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