The National Rifle Association held its annual conference in Houston on Friday, just three days after and 300 miles away from the May 24 mass shooting of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Former President Donald Trump spoke at the convention, alongside other high-profile Republicans, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. Several politicians slated to speak did not attend the convention, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
CNN reported that Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the rifle used in the Uvalde shooting, would not attend the NRA convention after their product was “criminally misused.”
The opening remarks of Trump’s almost hourlong address disparaged those who didn’t “show up.” Abbot, who had opted to hold a press conference in Uvalde during the convention, pre-recorded a video in which he was “dismissive” of calls for gun reforms, said CNN. Fox News expressed that the NRA convention came at a time “when guns and gun control is elevated in public debate.”
President Joe Biden and Democrats have renewed calls for stronger gun control, with Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer attempting to negotiate a compromise on new laws. The New York Times said,
“By raising expectations that a bipartisan deal on gun safety, mental health and school security is even possible, Mr. Schumer is intensifying the spotlight — not only on Republicans and whether they will come to the table in good faith, but also on the institution of the Senate and its ability to grapple with a pressing national issue like gun violence, so searing in its trauma and obvious in its impact.”
Many Republicans have doubled down on their opposition to gun reform, instead blaming mental health and school security as the root causes of mass shootings, wrote Politico. This narrative echoed at the NRA event, with Trump blasting attempts from Democrats to curb access to guns, calling the push an “extreme political agenda.” He said, “Clearly, we need to make it far easier to confine the violent and mentally deranged into mental institutions.”
Protesters gathered outside the convention center in what CNN called “the tale of two Americas.” The demonstrators chanted alongside Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke while holding anti-NRA signs and displaying photos of shooting victims.
Trump spoke of arming teachers and revoking COVID relief money to create defenses at schools, before his “remarks later devolved into a stump speech,” according to Politico, as he pledged a more militaristic policing approach and pontificated on a range of issues.
NBC noted that Robb Elementary school had invested in a “significant safety plan,” with security officers, fencing, drills, and instructions to keep doors locked.
Repeating a refrain given less than an hour prior by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Trump said, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Cruz had also blamed “cultural sickness” for shootings.
A fact check from The New York Times evaluated claims made by Trump and Cruz, which in many cases downplayed the effectiveness of gun control measures and distorted data on gun ownership. Cruz erroneously argued that the rate of gun ownership hasn’t changed since 1972, but “acts of evil like we saw this week are on the rise.” Data rejects this claim, as the per capita number of guns in the U.S. doubled from 1968 to 2012 and has continued to rise, such that a 2018 survey showed about 1.2 guns for every person.
After the Uvalde shooting, NPR reported the rest of the convention went on as planned:
“Thousands gathered inside of the George R. Brown Convention Center for the NRA meeting while swaths of others convened outside in protest, advocating for gun control legislation. Both groups discussed the shooting, but those inside understood it as a moral issue — an act of evil that can’t be fixed by any law — and those outside saw it as a political and legislative matter.”
The NRA called the shooting a “horrific and evil crime,” saying it would “pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”
Image by Michael Wyke / AP