HOUSTON (AP) — Former President Donald Trump defends the rights of gun owners during an address to the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston, three days after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school across the state. .
As protesters shouted outside, Trump was set to call on Friday for a ‘radical change in ‘the nation’s approach to mental health’ and ‘a top-down overhaul of safety in schools across the country’ , while rejecting calls to disarm gun owners, according to excerpts from his speech.
“The existence of evil in our world is no reason to disarm law-abiding citizens – the existence of evil is one of the best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens,” he said. stated in prepared remarks.
Trump was among Republican leaders lining up to speak at the event, where the gun rights lobby group said attendees planned to “reflect” — and deflect any blame for — the shooting in a school in Uvalde. Hundreds of protesters angry at the gun violence demonstrated outside, including some holding crosses with pictures of the shooting victims.
Wayne LaPierre, the group’s general manager, began the event by saying that “every member of the NRA and I know every decent American is in mourning right now.” Twenty-one beautiful lives ruthlessly and indiscriminately extinguished by a criminal monster.
Still, he said, “restricting the basic human rights of law-abiding Americans to defend themselves is not the answer. It never was.
The few hundred people in the auditorium stood and bowed their heads in a moment of silence for the victims of the Uvalde school shooting. There were a lot of empty seats.
Among the protesters outside, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Texas Governor Greg Abbott in the gubernatorial race, ticked off a list of previous school shootings and called on convention attendees to “stand join us in making sure this is no longer happening in this country.
“The moment I stopped Uvalde was right after Sandy Hook,” O’Rourke said. “The time for us to stop Uvalde was right after Parkland. The time for us to stop Uvalde was right after high school in Santa Fe. The time for us to stop the next mass shooting in this country is now, right here, today with all of us.
Some scheduled speakers and performers withdrew from the event, including several Texas lawmakers and “American Pie” singer Don McLean, who said “it would be disrespectful” to continue his act after the latest mass shooting in the country. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Friday morning he decided not to speak at a breakfast event after “prayerful consideration and discussion with NRA officials.”
The NRA said those attending the gun show would ‘reflect’ on the Uvalde school shooting, ‘pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members and pledge to redouble their commitment to secure our schools”.
The meeting is the first for the struggling organization since 2019, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The organization attempted to regroup after a period of severe legal and financial turmoil this included a failed bankruptcy effort, a class action lawsuit, and a fraud investigation by the New York Attorney General. Once among the most powerful political organizations in the country, the NRA has seen its influence wane following a significant drop in political spending.
As President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress renewed their calls for tougher gun laws in the wake of the Uvalde shooting, NRA board members and others at the conference rejected talk of banning or limiting access to guns.
Larry Miller, 56, of Huntington Beach, Calif., said he had no problem with the NRA meeting taking place so soon after the Uvalde shooting. He called the shooting “very sad and unfortunate” and said the shooter had “no respect for the freedoms of the people that we have here in this country”.
“We all share these rights, so respecting other people’s rights is respecting other people’s lives, and I think with that kind of mentality, we should be here,” he said.
Samuel Thornburg, 43, a maintenance worker for Southwest Airlines in Houston who was attending the NRA meeting, said, “Guns aren’t bad. It is the people who commit the crime who are evil. Our schools need to be locked down more. We need more guards.
Inside the convention hall, thousands of people strolled, stopping at stalls displaying displays of handguns, rifles, AR-type firearms, knives, clothing and weapon racks. Outside, police set up metal barriers in a large park where hundreds of protesters and counter-protesters gathered outside the downtown convention center.
“Murderers!” some shouted in Spanish. “Shame on you!” others shouted at attendees.
Among the protesters was singer Little Joe, of the popular Tejano band Little Joe y La Familia, who said that in the more than 60 years he has traveled the world, no other country in which he has s Never has faced as many mass shootings as the United States.
“Of course it’s the best country in the world,” he said. “But what good is it to us if we can’t protect lives, especially our children?”
Texas has seen a string of mass shootings in recent years. Meanwhile, the Republican-led legislature and governor have relaxed gun laws.
There is precedent for the NRA to come together during local mourning and controversy. The organization went ahead with an abbreviated version of its 1999 meeting in Denver about a week after the fatal shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. Actor Charlton Heston, the president of the NRA at the time, told attendees that “horrendous acts” should not become opportunities to limit constitutional rights and he denounced critics for calling members of the NRA of “bad guys”.
Country music singer Larry Gatlin, who pulled out of a scheduled appearance at this year’s convention, said he hoped “the NRA will rethink some of its outdated and thoughtless positions.”
“While I agree with most of the positions held by the NRA, I have come to believe that while background checks won’t stop every lunatic with a gun, it’s up to all least a step in the right direction,” Gatlin said.
Country singers Lee Greenwood and Larry Stewart have also pulled out, Variety reported..
Most American adults think mass shootings would happen less often if guns were harder to get and think schools and other public places have become less safe than they were two decades ago, a poll has found.
Many specific measures that would limit access to firearms or ammunition also have majority support. An AP-NORC poll from May found, for example, that 51% of American adults support a nationwide ban on the sale of AR-15 rifles and similar semi-automatic weapons. But the numbers are highly partisan, with 75% of Democrats agreeing against just 27% of Republicans.
In addition to Patrick, two Texas congressmen who were scheduled to speak on Friday – US Senator John Cornyn and US Representative Dan Crenshaw – were no longer present due to what their staff said were changes to their schedules. . Abbott, who was scheduled to attend, was instead to address the convention via pre-recorded video.
But others were going ahead with their appearances, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Trump.
Although personal firearms are permitted at the convention, the NRA said firearms would not be permitted during the session featuring Trump due to Secret Service security protocols.
Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed from Jefferson City, Missouri.
Read more about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings.