Days after a gunman killed 17 people at a south Florida high school, a city official more than 1,000 miles away has a message for the largest and most powerful gun rights group in the country: Take your convention elsewhere.
“I am saying to the NRA, reconsider yourselves coming to Dallas,” Dwaine Caraway, Dallas’s mayor pro tem, told reporters Monday. “There will be marches and demonstrations should they come to Dallas.”
The National Rifle Association’s annual convention — a spectacle of “more than 20 acres” of firearms exhibits — is scheduled to be held at Dallas’s downtown convention center in May. For Caraway, his position against the NRA convention is a personal one, despite being a gun owner himself.
“It is a tough call when you ask the NRA to reconsider coming to Dallas, but it is putting citizens first and getting them to come to the table and elected officials to come to the table and to address this madness now,” he said.
Responding to Caraway’s comments, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the organization has no plans to scrap its three-day convention, scheduled on the first weekend in May at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
“Dallas, like every American city and community, is populated by NRA members. Our members work in fire stations and police departments. They save lives in local hospitals and own businesses in communities urban and rural throughout this country,” he said. “No politician anywhere can tell the NRA not to come to their city. We are already there.”
Indeed, moving the convention is highly unlikely, despite the delicate political environment created by yet another school shooting. For one, Dallas, no matter what individual politicians say, had already offered a hefty incentive to lure the NRA convention and its expected 80,000 attendees to the city. And that incentive is solidified in a contract to which the city is bound.
Cities usually see massive gatherings such as the NRA convention as a boost to tourism, a chance for local businesses to earn revenue through dining, lodging and spending money in other ways. Dallas is no different.
Numbers provided by VisitDallas, the city’s tourism office, show that the city is footing the cost of having the NRA convention there. Renting the city-owned convention center for the NRA event costs $410,618. But the center offered a discounted rate of $387,778 — which will then be paid for not by the NRA, but by VisitDallas.
“Incentives are designed to make our bid competitive with other destinations and come from the hotel community based on the expected impact on hotel and lodging revenue,” Stephanie Faulk, spokeswoman for VisitDallas, said in an email to The Washington Post.
The NRA subsidy is part of a contract that the city approved in 2012. That year, the city created the Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District, a move to make Dallas a top tourism destination. The district, governed by a board of hotel owners, generates funds through payments from about 120 hotels with 100 rooms or more within Dallas city limits. Hotels each pay 2 percent of their rent income to the district, creating a sizable fund of $15 million a year that is used, in part, to provide incentives to organizations to come to the city.
“Incentives always go before executive management and the Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID) board,” Faulk said. “Our sales team seeks business and brings those business opportunities to the convention center and hotel and lodging community for consideration.
“This is a common practice in the meetings and events industry,” Faulk added.
Other cities such as Charlotte, Louisville and Houston have offered similar subsidies to the NRA, the Charlotte Observer reported in 2016.
Dallas Mayor Michael Rawlings acknowledged in a statement that the city’s hands are tied. (Caraway, the city’s mayor pro tem, is not the mayor. He is a member of the city council and was elected by council members to be mayor pro tem, essentially a substitute in the absence of the mayor.)
“We’re always working to be a welcoming city for people and organizations of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. But of course I’m concerned about the image of Dallas as the host of this convention,” Rawlings said. “I know I’m one of many Dallasites who doesn’t agree with the NRA’s viewpoints or tactics. However, they have a legal contract that was signed in 2012 and I’m not advocating that we violate that agreement.”
Scott Goldstein, Rawlings’s spokesman, said the matter about the NRA has not come before the Dallas City Council.
Rawlings, like Caraway, has not been silent about guns and the NRA in the wake of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Last week, Rawlings wrote a letter to President Trump and several members of Congress who represent Texas districts to create a bipartisan commission that would tackle issues such as mental health, gun rights and gun control.
“Wednesday’s mass shooting … shook me to my core. As I struggle through the aftermath, it breaks my heart to see media reports full of the phrase ‘the new normal’ as they report on that horrific event. Indeed, I fear that too many people are already losing their sense of outrage at these events,” Rawlings wrote, adding later: “Establishment of the commission would recognize that this is a complex problem with many root causes that is further complicated by the poisonous politics surrounding guns.”
Caraway, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, is not the only council member to oppose holding the NRA convention in Dallas. Council member Kevin Felder expressed his opposition in a tweet Monday.
But if history were any indication, banning an organization from holding an event in a city risks the possibility of lawsuits.
The sex expo Exxxotica sued Dallas in 2016 after the city council voted to ban the event from the convention center, the Dallas Morning News reported. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit last year.
In 2013, commissioners in Travis County in south-central Texas considered banning gun shows. At the time, Attorney General Greg Abbott warned of a “double-barreled lawsuit” if the county moved ahead with the ban, according to the Dallas Morning News. Commissioners decided to not ban gun shows from the county’s expo center.