By Terrance Turner
May 27, 2022
Today, the National Rifle Association began its three-day convention in Houston, Texas. The powerful gun lobby launched its event at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, just three days after the deadly shooting in Uvalde, TX. On Tuesday, 18-year-old gunman used two semi-automatic rifles to kill 19 students and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde (which is four hours and 19 minutes from Houston). Today, the NRA Convention went ahead as scheduled — but not without a few defections.
In the days after Tuesday’s shooting, several performers scheduled to perform at the convention withdrew, including singer Don McLean. Some of the speakers also withdrew. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who had been slated to speak, chose not to attend. Instead, he held a news conference in Uvalde, and spoke in pre-recorded remarks that were played inside the event.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also pulled out of his scheduled appearance. “I would not want to cause additional pain” to those families affected by the Uvalde shooting, he said. Two Republican lawmakers, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, both pulled out a few days ago, before the Uvalde shooting. Crenshaw is currently in Ukraine; Cornyn had a scheduling conflict.
But Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wasn’t deterred. He spoke at the convention today. According to The Hill, he blamed everyone and everything but guns for the shooting — declining church attendance, violent video games, prescription drugs, social media and more. He even blamed the violence on a lack of love. But not guns. “We know that many of these who seek to commit the most heinous crimes, they’re isolated from human contact,” Cruz said. “They’re living a virtual life in the absence of community, of community and faith and love.”
“What stops armed bad guys is armed good guys,” he said — even though there were 19 “good guys” waiting in the hallway during the Uvalde shooting while children were barricaded inside with a gunman who killed them. (Additionally, there was an armed security guard who attempted to stop the Buffalo shooter. But his bullet failed to make an impact because the shooter was wearing body armor. He returned fire, killing the security guard.)
Also speaking at the event: former president Donald Trump. According to NBC News, Trump pointedly referenced some of the politicians who canceled their appearances. “Unlike some, I didn’t disappoint you by not showing up,” Trump said at the start of his remarks.
Trump described the Uvalde shooting as “a savage and barbaric atrocity” and called for a moment of silence as he read the names of the 21 victims. The former president said those killed “are now with God in heaven” while the shooter “will be eternally damned to burn in the fires of hell.”
Trump echoed the party line of many fellow Republicans, rejecting gun reform measures in favor of mental health initiatives and increased security at school. He also echoed a long-heard refrain of the right: that Democrats are intent on taking guns from law-abiding American citizens.
“We all know they want total gun confiscation, know that this would be a first step,” Trump told the crowd in an auditorium about 300 miles from the site of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Tex. “Once they get the first step, they’ll take the second step, the third, the fourth, and then you’ll have a whole different look at the Second Amendment.”
“While we don’t yet know enough about this week’s killing, we know there are many things we must do,” he said. “We need to drastically change our approach to mental health. There are always so many warning signs. Almost all of these disfigured minds share the same profile.”
“Teachers, parents, school officials, and community members need to be recognizing and addressing these alarm bells promptly and very, very aggressively,” he continued. “And our school discipline systems, instead of making excuses and continually turning a blind eye, need to confront bad behavior head on and quickly. And clearly we need to make it far easier to confine the violent and mentally deranged into mental institutions.”
In calling for increased school security, Trump echoed other Republicans in suggesting schools must transition to having only a single point of entry, implement metal detectors and employ an armed security officer at all times. Trump also said teachers should be able to be armed on school property.
NBC News writers Jonathan Allen and Allan Smith pointed out: “At the same time, increased spending, security and training preceded the shooting in Uvalde, where Robb Elementary School had invested in a significant safety plan. The school had hired security officers and erected fencing around the building. Teachers were under instruction to keep classroom doors locked, and students routinely went through drills to prepare for an active shooter.”
Up to 80,000 people are expected to attend the convention, which Mayor Sylvester Turner said has been on the books for two years. Resisting calls for him to cancel the event, Turner said that the city is contractually obligated to proceed with the convention, saying that there is nothing the city can do to force a cancelation that wouldn’t expose them to legal liability.
But in the very near vicinity, a protest of the convention was formed. The hours-long protest — which was organized by Black Lives Matter Houston, Fiel Houston, Indivisible Houston and the Harris County Democratic Party — was held across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center, with calls for stricter gun control laws as the nation grapples with the shooting. Present at the march was youth activist David Hogg, who became a gun reform advocate after surviving the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Hogg had some words for the protest crowd at Discovery Green. “Persist. Do not give up. Because of the work hat we have done in the four years since march For Our Lives and the work that has been done in the decades prior to that, especially by Black and brown women who are the veterans of the gun violence prevention movement that laid the groundwork for us to get to this point, we now have the most pro-gun violence-prevention Senate, House and White House ever in American history. But that’s not enough. That’s not enough. We have to hold them accountable and get to the filibuster.”
The protest garnered an estimated 4,000-plus demonstrators, according to an officer from the Houston Police Department, as well as several speakers, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.
“Our hearts do break,” Hidalgo said to the crowd. “Kids are terrified. Moms are terrified. Dads are terrified. Teachers, school administrators, they’re carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.”
Hidalgo, who wore a T-shirt from national gun safety organization Moms Demand Action, continued: “I offer my sadness. I offer my anger. I know I share it with you. I offer my thoughts and I offer my prayers,” Hidalgo said, calling out Republican leaders who offered their thoughts and prayers for victims following the Uvalde shooting. “But you did not elect me to offer my thoughts and to offer my prayers.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, Hidalgo called for Gov. Abbott to hold a special session to address guns and gun violence. “If Greg Abbott can call a special session, and a second special session, and a third special session to keep people from voting, surely he can call a special session to keep babies from being murdered,” Hidalgo said.
Bishop James Dixon called on Gov. Abbott to make an executive order to ban assault weapons. He also suggested that red flag laws be implemented in Texas and throughout the United States.
“As long as we don’t have a ban, our leaders should be held accountable. They don’t belong to the public,” Dixon said. Thirdly, Dixon called on lawmakers to raise the age of purchasing a gun to 21. “If you cannot buy liquor, a can of beer at 18, why would you be able to buy a gun at 18?” he asked.
According to KHOU, O’Rourke appealed to those who were planning on attending the convention. “To those who are attending the NRA convention across the street, you are not our enemies,” O’Rourke said. “We are not yours. We extend our arms open and unarmed in a gesture of peace and fellowship to welcome you to join us to make sure this no longer happens in this country.”
Beto O’Rourke did not mention Abbott by name during his short address to supporters. But he did call out NRA leadership. “To the leadership of the NRA, and to those politicians you have purchased, to those men and women in positions of power who care more about your power, than using that power to save the lives of those that you are supposed to serve, if you have done anything good,” O’Rourke said. “It is the fact that you have brought us here together because we are committing ourselves to act. We will defeat you and we will overcome you.”
“We will never forget them. We will never forget Uvalde. The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Sandy Hook. The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Parkland. The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Santa Fe. The time for us to stop the next school mass shooting is right now, here today, with every single one of us,” said O’Rourke.