Protests at NRA convention in Texas, but speakers reject new gun laws

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Demonstrators holding placards and crosses with pictures of victims of a Texas elementary school shooting protested Friday outside the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston, as the gun lobby came under pressure after the massacre.

Attendance was poor and speakers and musical performances swarmed as about 500 protesters, some shouting “NRA get out” and “Shame, it could be your kids today,” jeered at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Tuesday’s deadly shooting of 19 Ovaldi, Texas, schoolchildren and two teachers by an 18-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, focused attention once again on the NRA, the nation’s largest arms lobby and a major donor to members of Congress, most of whom are from Republicans.

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Uvalde is located approximately 280 miles (450 km) west of Houston.

Video images of the main auditorium in Houston, which is home to about 3,600 people, showed it was nearly half full as former President Donald Trump took the stage on Friday afternoon.

Other speakers, including Senator Ted Cruz and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, announced calls for new gun control laws and urged increased spending on school security and law enforcement.

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick withdrew from making personal remarks at the event. Patrick said he withdrew so as not to “bring any additional pain or grief to the families and all the suffering in Uvald”.

Cruz, a Texas Republican, said in a speech to the meeting that communities need weapons to stay safe. “Disarming them will not make them safer.”

Outside in a park near the convention center, protester Harper Young, a 15-year-old student in Houston, held a poster and choked back tears. “It is completely unacceptable for gun violence to happen over and over again. It’s horrific.”

In a country where gun rights are enshrined in the constitution and gun sales are on the rise, the NRA will likely ignore new calls for more gun control measures despite the recent shooting.

The Republican Party, which has frustrated the Democratic Party’s efforts in Congress to legislate stricter gun measures, is closely allied with the NRA.

The NRA’s decision to proceed with its largest annual gathering is part of a decades-old strategy to stand up to pressure for gun control dating back to the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. Read more

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Director of the NRA, spoke about the school killings, but said gun owners “love our nation, and they love our children and grandchildren…that’s why we will always cherish our fundamental right to defend and protect ourselves and our communities.”

Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, rejected suggestions that teachers be armed to thwart future shootings.

“More guns mean more violence,” she said. “Assault weapons should be banned,” she said outside the meeting.

Houston activist Johnny Mata called on the NRA to stop the agreement and hold a memorial service for Uvald’s victims.

Mata, who represented the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice’s advocacy group, said, “They have the audacity not to cancel with regard to these families. The NRA should “stop being part of the murder of children in American schools.”

Tim Hickey, a Marine veteran who attended the event, dismissed the protests. These people are puppets and sheep of the media. “They don’t change anyone’s mind,” he said.

On the convention center exhibit floor, dozens of handguns, pistols, hunting and assault rifles are in the booths, and browse displays of Sierra Bullets and other companies’ ammunition.

The weekend conference was the group’s first annual meeting of five million members after two previous cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Posters commemorating its 150th anniversary hung above the exhibition hall.

In a pre-recorded video, the Texas governor said, “As Texans and as Americans we grieve and grieve with these families.” But he said the laws did not stop the Uvald shooter and retracted calls that “laws will not prevent evil lunatics from committing these atrocities.”

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(Reporting by Arathi Sumasekhar and Calaghan O’Hare); Written by Gary McWilliams Editing by Alistair Bell

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