Trump and other Republicans reject gun reforms at NRA convention that showcases nation’s split

But those mistakes, and their ramifications on proposals to put more armed police and teachers in schools, went unmentioned in speeches by Trump and other Republicans.

“Remember this: there are thousands of laws in effect across the country that restrict the possession or use of firearms, laws that have failed to stop the insane from committing evil acts on innocent people in peaceful communities,” he said.

In his speech, Trump called for a series of measures that largely mirrored what other Republicans had proposed throughout the day: schools with one entrance, with armed guards stationed there, and fire exits. uniquely. He also said some teachers should be allowed to carry guns.

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” the former president said – repeating a refrain Texas Sen. Ted Cruz used on stage less than a month ago. an hour earlier.

But Trump also nodded to the political reality that gun rights advocates represent a core constituency for Republicans, and for the former president in particular. “You are the backbone of our movement,” he said on Friday.

Cruz, meanwhile, blamed a “cultural illness,” including fatherless children and video games, for the mass shootings. He said schools should have a single entry point defended by several armed guards.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has attacked supporters of gun safety legislation.

“Let me tell you the truth about the enemies of the Second Amendment. They are educated in the manner of Marx and Lenin,” she said.

And NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said “if we as a nation were able to legislate evil out of the hearts and minds of the criminals who commit these heinous acts, we would have done so.” a long time ago”.

The tale of two Americas

In the nation’s bitter division over guns, the story of two Americas was on vivid display in downtown Houston, as protesters waved signs and shouted at members of the NRA as they was entering the George R. Brown Convention Center for their meeting and exhibit.

“NRA, go away,” one woman repeated repeatedly, her voice echoing through a megaphone in the punishing sun.

“You’re leaving,” shouted another woman as she crossed the street to enter the event.

It’s been three years since the NRA last met for its convention – the last two years were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic – and thousands of people descended on Houston to show their support for the second amendment and shop in the expansive showroom.

To celebrate its 150th anniversary, the NRA made a big splash for its meeting in Texas, with a sign outside the convention center promising “14 acres of weapons and equipment.”

Weapons of all shapes and sizes were on display, from antique pistols to automatic weapons, some decorated with camouflage and others with American flags. Hundreds of vendors set up stalls for the weekend, selling ammunition and a variety of gun accessories.

After the Columbine Massacre in 1999, the NRA canceled its exhibit at its meeting near Denver. But this year, despite Uvalde being less than 300 miles away, the exhibit went as planned – except for Daniel Defence, the company that made the gun used in the shooting at Robb Elementary School.

“We believe this week is not the appropriate time to promote our products in Texas at the NRA meeting,” Steve Reed, vice president of marketing for Daniel Defense, told CNN.

A popcorn cart, a baked potato stand and several tables and chairs were hastily set up in the space originally reserved for Daniel Defence, a Georgian company.

Following the shooting, this was the only noticeable alteration to the expansive showroom. But prominent country singers Lee Greenwood and Larry Gatlin were among the performers who also canceled their appearances.

“I didn’t think it was the right time to come down to Houston and celebrate with them digging 21 new graves in the valley of my precious and beloved Texas,” Gatlin, of the famous Gatlin Brothers, told CNN.

Conversations with several NRA members — some from Texas and others who were visiting Houston for the weekend event — found respectful expressions of sympathy for the loss of life at the Uvalde school. Yet person after person blamed mental health issues and other issues – not guns – for the horrific shooting.

“It’s not that guns are bad. Guns are tools that can be used for good or bad, just like cars,” said Dr Elizabeth Tom, who visited to Texas from Elko, Nevada, for the convention. “A lot more people are being killed in car crashes, but no one is saying you have to wait to buy one or that all cars are bad because some people run over other people with them.”

A member of the NRA for about three decades, Tom said she doesn’t believe more gun restrictions will prevent future killings.

“I know this may be somewhat controversial and I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but if any of these teachers had been armed it could have been over a lot quicker,” Tom told CNN. “We already have gun restrictions. Shooting someone is already illegal, so I don’t really know what more they want.”

Not all participants shared this opinion.

Max Shirley, an NRA member from Round Rock, Texas, said he would support “sensible measures” to stop the cycle of school shootings. He said he thought the age limit for buying an automatic weapon should be raised to 21 and the clip size for ammunition should be lowered.

“If the person you’re defending against isn’t down or the threat isn’t diminished after 10 rounds or 10 shots, then you have bigger problems,” Shirley told CNN. “Or you’re a bad shooter.”

“I can’t believe they’re still here after Uvalde”

Outside the convention center, thousands gathered for a protest organized by gun advocacy groups Moms Demand Action and March for Our Lives, as well as local teachers’ unions, chapters of Black Lives Matter and the Harris County Democratic Party.

Many said they were furious that the NRA was going ahead with its convention after a school shooting in the state days earlier.

“I can’t believe they’re still here after Uvalde,” said Anastacia Castro, a 20-year-old student whose brother was shot and killed last year. “They insult victims of gun violence like me by being here in town.”

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Milan Narayan, a 17-year-old student who leads a Students Demand Action chapter at his high school, where he said an accidental shooting took place last year, said he understands the NRA convention was booked well in advance.

“But you can’t be deaf. I mean, kids died,” he said.

The signs protesters held demonstrated the rawness of the emotion some of them said they felt after the Uvalde shooting, which took place in a state that has seen a string of mass shootings in recent times. years – including 26 people killed in a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017 and 22 killed in a Walmart in El Paso in 2019 by a gunman targeting Latinos.

A sign read, “I’m going to vote against you because those 10-year-olds will never make it. Another said: “My little sister is afraid to go to school.

In speeches and interviews on Friday, protesters in Houston focused on guns. Many have argued for a ban on the sale of assault rifles.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who challenged Abbott in November’s midterm elections and called for “red flag” laws and a ban on the sale of AR-15s, said sought to extend an olive branch to NRA members.
“To those attending the NRA convention across the street: You are not our enemies. We are not yours. We extend our hands, open and unarmed, in a gesture of peace and brotherhood, to welcome you to join us in making sure that doesn’t happen again in this country,” O’Rourke said during a speech at the protest, about a football pitch far from the center of the Congress. O’Rourke made headlines the day after the shooting when he confronted Abbott and other officials at a press conference in Uvalde.

“But now is the time for you to respond and join us. We can’t wait for you any longer,” he said. “Those who will be the victims of the next mass shooting unless we act are counting on us right now. So please join us now or be left behind.”

This story and title have been updated with additional details.

CNN’s David Wright contributed to this report.


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