By JUAN LOZANO and JILL COLVIN
HOUSTON (AP) — One by one, they spoke at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston and denounced the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in the state. And one by one, they insisted that further restricting access to guns was not the answer to preventing future tragedies.
“The existence of evil in our world is no reason to disarm law-abiding citizens,” said former President Donald Trump, who was among the Republicans lining up to speak to the panel. pressure on gun rights on Friday as thousands of protesters were angry over guns. violence manifested outside.
“The existence of evil is one of the best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens,” he said on Friday.
The rally came just three days after the shooting in Uvalde and as the nation grappled with revelations that students trapped in a classroom with the shooter repeatedly called 911 during the attack – the a pleading ‘Please send the police now’ – as officers waited in the hallway. for more than 45 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.”
The meeting was the first for the struggling organization since 2019, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 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.
Wayne LaPierre, the group’s embattled chief executive, opened the program with remarks lamenting the “21 beautiful lives ruthlessly and blindly 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 shooting. Several thousand people were inside the auditorium during the speeches, which appeared to be outnumbered by the number gathered outside. Many seats were empty.
Trump accused Democrats of trying to exploit the tragedy and demonize gun owners.
“When Joe Biden blamed the gun lobby, he was talking about Americans like you,” Trump said, referencing the president’s emotional appeal in a nationwide speech asking, “When in God’s name let’s we stand up to the gun lobby?”
Trump called for an overhaul of school safety and the national approach to mental health, telling the group that every school building should have a single point of entry, a strong exterior fence, metal detectors and security gates. reinforced classrooms and that every school should have an armed policeman or 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 that were already in place at the elementary school and failed to arrest the shooter, who entered the building through a back door that had been propped open.
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, for example – one of the most basic and recommended school security measures – kept victims out and the police out.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who like Trump is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024, has spoken out against Democrats’ calls for universal background checks for gun purchases and the assault weapons ban and instead pointed to broken families, declining church attendance, social media bullying and video games as the real issues.
“Tragedies like this week’s event are a mirror that forces us to ask tough questions, demanding that we see where our culture is failing,” he said. “We must not respond to evil and tragedy by abandoning the Constitution or undermining the rights of our law-abiding citizens.”
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.
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.”
“Although 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.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who was scheduled to attend, instead addressed the convention via pre-recorded video.
Outside the convention hall, protesters gathered in a park where police set up metal barriers – some holding crosses with pictures of Uvalde shooting victims.
“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 Never 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 Abbott in the gubernatorial race, ticked off a list of previous school shootings and called on convention attendees to ‘join us in making sure this doesn’t happen again. in this country”.
As 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 prohibiting 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.
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.
Texas has seen a series of mass shootings in recent years. Meanwhile, the Republican-led legislature and governor have relaxed gun laws.
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.
Although personal firearms are permitted at the convention, firearms were not permitted during the session featuring Trump due to Secret Service security protocols.
Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed from Jefferson City, Missouri.
Read more about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings.