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NRA holds convention in Houston days after Texas school shooting

A sign showing former president Donald Trump, who will be speaking at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, at the National Rifle Association annual convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on May 26. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
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The National Rifle Association (NRA) is pressing ahead with its annual convention Friday, which is expected to draw major Republican speakers as well as protesters as the gun lobby meets in Houston — just four hours’ drive from the site of the school shooting in Uvalde, Tex., three days ago.

Former president Donald Trump stuck with plans to address the gathering, as did Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was scheduled to appear but will now present a prerecorded message and be in Uvalde instead. Other slated speakers, Republicans Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, previously pulled out for reasons that spokesmen said were unrelated to the Tuesday massacre at Robb Elementary School.

Guns will not be allowed in the auditorium during Trump’s speech because of Secret Service security requirements, according to the NRA’s website.

The NRA has stayed mostly mum on any changes to the program, releasing a brief statement that pledged “to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure,” suggesting the group will maintain the position it adopted after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., of encouraging more armed personnel in schools.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said at a Thursday news conference that the NRA opted against delaying the convention until after the funerals for the 19 children and two teachers killed in Uvalde. Turner said local authorities would provide security staging areas for protesters. Leaders of national and state teachers unions and survivors of the school shootings in Newtown and Parkland, Fla., will hold a roundtable opposite the convention to demand new gun regulations.

The gun lobby enters this year's meeting, its first since 2019, weakened by lawsuits and infighting. The NRA is fighting a lawsuit from the New York attorney general alleging that top executives misspent the organization’s money to enrich themselves and their friends. While the scandals have taken a toll on the NRA’s budget and staff, there are other signs that the gun rights issue is more potent than ever in Republican politics.

While the NRA held on to its biggest political headliners, two of its top-billed entertainers canceled their appearances. “American Pie” singer Don McLean said he “decided it would be disrespectful and hurtful for me to perform for the NRA at their convention in Houston this week.” And Lee Greenwood, whose “God Bless the USA” has long been Trump’s walk-on music for his rallies, said he and his band decided to cancel their performance at the NRA convention “out of respect for those mourning the loss of those innocent children and teachers in Uvalde.”

The juxtaposition of the convention and the shooting echoes the NRA’s annual meeting in 1999, which was held in Denver shortly after the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. That year, the NRA resisted calls to cancel the event, which drew thousands of attendees and protesters.

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