The elementary school massacre Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas, has the National Rifle Association under siege as it convenes its annual meeting Friday just a few hundred miles away in Houston.
Democratic leaders, including President Biden and former President Barack Obama, have lobbed attacks at the “gun lobby” and singled out the NRA and Republican lawmakers to blame for rampant gun violence in America.
Massive protests are expected outside the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, where the NRA will stage its first national meeting since COVID-19 shut down the annual event in 2020.
NRA leaders haven’t scaled back the meeting, and former President Donald Trump vowed to take the stage as originally planned on Friday. He is expected to pivot to mental health and school safety as deterrents to mass shootings.
“America needs real solutions and real leadership in this moment, not politicians and partisanship,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “That’s why I will keep my longtime commitment to speak in Texas at the NRA Convention and deliver an important address to America.”
Mr. Trump added, “In the meantime, we all continue to pray for the victims, their families, and for our entire nation — we are all in this together!”
SEE ALSO: Trump calls for real solutions and leadership without partisanship in wake of mass shootings
When Mr. Trump was president, he made mental health the focus after mass shootings in 2019 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and at a crowded entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio.
“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” Mr. Trump said on the campaign trail that year.
The NRA on Wednesday said the convention would proceed as planned and pledged to fight harder for better school safety.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the families and victims involved in this horrific and evil crime. On behalf of our members, we salute the courage of school officials, first responders and others who offered their support and services,” the NRA said in a statement.
“Although an investigation is underway and facts are still emerging, we recognize this was the act of a lone, deranged criminal. As we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”
Democratic leaders and gun control activists said tougher firearms laws are better answers to the bloodshed. They proposed several laws that have failed to pass Congress for more than a decade, including universal background checks, banning military-style “assault rifles,” limiting magazine capacities and establishing a federal firearm registration database.
SEE ALSO: Guns banned from NRA convention during Trump speech: Report
The NRA routinely opposed these types of laws.
The shooting happened at Robb Elementary School just 10 days after a gunman went on a rampage at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people and injuring three.
But the horror of the shooting at the elementary school, where at least 19 children and two teachers died in a hail of bullets from an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, evoked blistering outrage that Democrats directed at the “gun lobby.”
“When in God’s name will we do what needs to be done to fundamentally change the amount of carnage in this county?” Mr. Biden said Wednesday. “Where’s the backbone? Where’s the courage to stand up to a very powerful lobby?”
Vice President Kamala Harris, standing beside Mr. Biden at a White House event, had a similar take: “We must have the courage to stand up to the gun lobby.”
Mr. Obama lamented that the U.S. is “paralyzed, not by fear, but by a gun lobby and a political party that have shown no willingness to act in any way that might help prevent these tragedies.”
Rep. Jimmy Gomez, California Democrat, blamed the school massacre on lawmakers “beholden” to the NRA.
“Innocent lives taken from us, not just by gun violence, but from inaction by politicians beholden to the NRA,” he said. “What will it take for Republicans to join us in passing gun safety legislation?”
The calls for protesters to descend on the NRA convention came from every corner of the political left.
A former high-ranking Army officer whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, commissioned to lead the security review at the U.S. Capitol after the 2021 riot beckoned demonstrators to a “major protest” in Houston.
“We need a major protest to close down the @NRA convention this weekend,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore tweeted. “The NRA has blood on its hands [and if] Senate Republicans will not stand up to them then the people of #Texas should.”
He tagged Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, in the tweet.
This isn’t the first time the NRA has been under siege at a national convention after a deadly mass shooting.
The NRA was scheduled to kick off a three-day convention in Denver on May 1, 1999. But 11 days earlier, two teens fired on classmates at Columbine High School in the city’s suburb of Littleton. The shooters killed 13 and wounded more than 20 before turning guns on themselves.
Denver Mayor Wellington Webb pressured the NRA to cancel the event. The NRA refused to cancel but cut back the event to one day and called off a planned firearms show.
Roughly 3,000 protesters converged on the Denver event that year.
This time, several protests are planned outside the NRA meeting, and organizers have called on the city to close down the gun group’s convention.
“There’s some audacity to be having that convention in the city of Houston, and it’s a slap in the face to Texans,” Ashton Woods, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Houston, told the Houston Chronicle.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday said canceling the NRA meeting was not an option.
“Canceling the convention would leave the city subject to a number of legal issues,” he said at a City Council meeting. “The greater question is why are elected officials speaking there … what message does that send?”
Republican leaders scheduled to speak at the NRA event include the Texas governor, both of the state’s U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz; as well as Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.
Gun rights advocates echoed the NRA’s promotion of school safety measures and challenged the effectiveness of the gun control laws offered by Democrats.
Hunter Pollack, who lost his sister to a teen gunman during the 2018 school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, tweeted, “Single point of entry. Armed security. Protect our schools like we protect our airports and federal buildings.”
Dana Loesch, a syndicated radio host, tweeted of the shooter, “The ‘gun lobby’ didn’t head his household, the ‘gun lobby’ didn’t neglect to monitor his behavior, the ‘gun lobby’ didn’t neglect to secure the school, the ‘gun lobby’ didn’t leave any doors unlocked, and the ‘gun lobby’ didn’t tell him to murder anyone.”
She went on to say, “The murderer reportedly purchased two rifles and passed a background check. Universal Background Checks would not have stopped this. It’s not a new system, it’s just an expansion of the existing troubled system.”
• Kerry Picket can be reached at email@example.com.
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