HOUSTON (AP) — One by one, they spoke at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention and denounced the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in the state. And one by one they insisted that changing US gun laws or further restricting access to guns was not the answer.
“We must not respond to evil and tragedy by abandoning the Constitution or infringing on the rights of our law-abiding citizens,” said Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who was among the Republican leaders who lined up to speak. before the gun rights lobby group. On Friday, as hundreds of angry gun violence protesters marched outside.
Former President Donald Trump, in his remarks, called 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 for new gun restrictions.
“The existence of evil in our world is no reason to disarm law-abiding citizens,” he said. “The existence of evil is one of the best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens.”
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The rally came just three days after the shooting in Uvalde and after revelations that students trapped in a classroom with the shooter repeatedly called 911 during the attack – one pleading “If he please send the police now” – as officers waited in the hallway for more than 45 years. minutes.
The NRA had said convention attendees would “reflect” on the shooting at the event and “pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools safe.”
Wayne LaPierre, the group’s chief executive, began with remarks lamenting “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.
Later, several 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.
Trump told the group that every school building should have a single point of entry, strong exterior fencing, metal detectors and reinforced classroom doors and that every school should have a police officer or armed guard on duty at all times. . He also called once again for trained teachers to be able to carry concealed weapons in the classroom.
He and other speakers ignored security upgrades already in place at the elementary school and failed to stop the shooter.
LOOK: The Texas Department of Public Safety said Uvalde police waited 48 minutes before pursuing the shooter
According to a district safety plan, schools in Uvalde have implemented a wide range of safety measures. The district had four police officers and four support counselors, according to the plan, which appears to date from the 2019-20 school year. It also had software to monitor social media for threats and software to screen school visitors.
Security experts say the Uvalde case illustrates how fortifying schools can backfire. A lock on the classroom door – one of the most basic and recommended school security measures – kept victims out and the police out.
The meeting was 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 that 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.
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.”
“While a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and a member of the NRA, I would not want my appearance today to bring any additional pain or grief to the families and all who are suffering in Uvalde,” he wrote in a statement.
Outside the convention hall, hundreds of protesters gathered in a park where police set up metal barriers – some holding crosses with pictures of victims of the Uvalde shooting.
READ MORE: Survivor of 2018 attack at Parkland school speaks out on recent mass shootings
“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 n t 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?”
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in the gubernatorial race, ticked off a list of previous school shootings and called on convention attendees to “join us in fighting back.” ensure that this does not happen again in this country. ”
As President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress renewed their calls for tougher gun laws after the Uvalde shooting, NRA board members and others at the conference rejected discussions on banning or limiting access to firearms.
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.
Stakeholders followed suit.
“There have been too many of these killings and we need to act decisively to stop them,” said Cruz, who is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024. “But what should we do?” He rejected Democrats’ calls for universal background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons.
READ MORE: How does US arms policy compare to the rest of the world?
According to him, “their so-called solutions would not have stopped these mass murders”.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, another potential presidential candidate, said calls to further restrict access to guns are “about control and it’s garbage.” I’m not buying it for a second and neither should you.
Texas has seen a series 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.
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. , according to a survey.
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, instead addressed the convention via pre-recorded video.
Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed from Jefferson City, Missouri.