In Shadow of Horrific Attack, NRA Redoubles Commitment to School Safety

'What happened there is obviously tragic. But the NRA had nothing to do with it. The people who come here had nothing to do with it...'

(Headline USA) The National Rifle Association begins its annual convention in Houston on Friday, and leaders of the powerful gun-rights lobbying group were planning to mourn and commemorate the deadly shooting earlier this week of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

However, they remained steadfast in their message that legal, constitutionally protected gun ownership was not the issue as leftists and their media allies have attempted to redirect the blame from a mentally deranged teenager who was reportedly bullied for his speech impediments and wearing of eyeliner.

While President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have renewed efforts to push stricter gun laws in light of the latest crisis, NRA board member Phil Journey said the focus should be on better mental health care and trying to prevent gun violence. He said he wouldn’t support banning or limiting access to firearms.

Gary Francis—who traveled with his wife and friends from Racine, Wisconsin, to attend the NRA meeting—said he also opposed any gun control regulations in response to the Uvalde shooting.

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“What happened there is obviously tragic,” Francis said. “But the NRA had nothing to do with it. The people who come here had nothing to do with it.”

The NRA said in an online statement that people attending the gun show will “reflect on” the Uvalde school shooting, “pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”

Some scheduled speakers and performers have backed out, including two Texas lawmakers and “American Pie” singer Don McLean, who said “it would be disrespectful” to go ahead with his act in the aftermath of the country’s latest mass shooting.

But former President Donald Trump made clear in the immediate aftermath that he would be undeterred in standing up for gun-rights at the convention, especially in the face of a renewed assault from leftist scapegoaters.

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“America needs real solutions and real leadership in this moment, not politicians and partisanship,” Trump posted Wednesday on his Truth Social account.

“That’s why I will keep my longtime commitment to speak in Texas at the NRA Convention and deliver an important address to America,” he continued. “In the meantime, we all continue to pray for the victims, their families, and for our entire nation—we are all in this together!”

Trump and other leading Republicans were scheduled to address the three-day firearms advocacy event, which was expected to draw protesters fed up with gun violence.

People planning to attend picked up registration badges Thursday and shopped for NRA souvenirs, such as T-shirts that say “Suns Out Guns Out.”

Police already had set up metal barriers across the street from the convention center, at a park where protesters were expected to gather Friday.

There is precedent for the NRA to gather amid local mourning and controversy. The organization went ahead with a shortened version of its 1999 meeting in Denver roughly a week after the deadly shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Actor Charlton Heston, the NRA president at that time, told attendees that “horrible acts” shouldn’t become opportunities to limit constitutional rights and he denounced critics for casting NRA members as “villains.”

Rocky Marshall, a former NRA board member, said that although the tragedy in Uvalde “does put the meeting in a bad light,” that’s not a reason to cancel it. Marshall said gun-rights advocates and opponents can perhaps reduce gun violence if they focus on factors such as mental illness or school security.

“Throwing rocks at the NRA, that doesn’t solve the next mass shooting,” he said. “Throwing rocks at the people that hate guns, that doesn’t solve the next mass shooting.”

But country music singer Larry Gatlin, who pulled out of planned appearance at the event, said he hopes “the NRA will rethink some of its outdated and ill-thought-out positions.”

“While I agree with most of the positions held by the NRA, I have come to believe that, while background checks would not stop every madman with a gun, it is at the very least a step in the right direction,” Gatlin said.

Country singers Lee Greenwood and Larry Stewart also withdrew, Variety reported.

Two Republican Texas lawmakers who had been scheduled speak Friday—U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw—are no longer attending due to what their staffs said were changes in their schedules.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was slated to attend, will instead address the convention by prerecorded video, his spokesman told the Dallas Morning News.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was listed as a speaker, and Trump said Wednesday that he still intends to attend. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, also is sticking to her plans to speak Friday at the NRA event.

Though personal firearms are allowed at the convention, the NRA said guns would not be permitted during the session featuring Trump because of Secret Service security protocols.

Several leftist groups have said they planned to stage protests outside of the convention center.

“This is not the time or the place to have this convention,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL, a Houston-based open-borders activism group that plans to participate. “We must not just have thoughts and prayers from legislators, but rather we need action to address this public health crisis that is affecting our communities.”

Democrat “Beto” O’Rourke, who drew harsh backlash for attempting to hijack a somber press conference earlier in the week and turn it into a political spectacle, said he would be attending a protest outside the convention Friday.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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