(The Hill) – The National Rifle Association (NRA) is moving forward with its annual summit in Houston, Texas, this weekend despite calls for the event to be canceled.
The pro-gun group’s three-day convention, which starts Friday, is located less than 300 miles from the site of the deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade. On Tuesday, an 18-year-old shot and killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas using guns he bought just days before.
The NRA, the most powerful gun rights group in the nation, has lobbied GOP lawmakers to oppose bills to expand background checks on gun sales, ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and enact “red flag” provisions that allow authorities to take guns away from individuals who pose a threat.
The organization’s role in defeating federal gun control legislation after every mass school shooting, and backing of bills to loosen gun laws in several states, including Texas, has sparked outrage and pleas for the conference to be called off.
Here are five things to know about the NRA’s annual meeting.
Trump, Cruz, Abbott set to speak
Former President Trump, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are scheduled to deliver remarks to NRA members on Friday. Of those planned speakers, Trump was the only one to confirm his attendance as of Thursday afternoon.
“America needs real solutions and real leadership in this moment, not politicians and partisanship,” Trump wrote in a post on his social media platform. “That’s why I will keep my longtime commitment to speak in Texas at the NRA Convention and deliver an important address to America.”
Cruz and Abbott, both staunch opponents of gun restrictions, are under pressure to cancel their speeches at the Houston convention center.
“What an absolute fraud the governor of Texas is,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Thursday. “And this is the same Gov. Abbott who tomorrow, tomorrow, will go speak at the NRA convention in Houston.”
Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who will face off with Abbott in November’s gubernatorial election, urged him over Twitter to “immediately withdraw from this weekend’s NRA convention and urge them to hold it anywhere but Texas,” joining a chorus of calls for Abbott to skip the event.
“Governor, your attendance at the event right after 19 innocent children were murdered by a gun sends a message that guns are more important than the lives you represent,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson wrote in a letter to Abbott on Wednesday. “Which is more important to you?”
Some have pulled out of the event
A small number of high-profile guests will no longer attend the NRA meeting following the shooting.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) will not speak at the convention due to “an unexpected change in his schedule” that occurred prior to the Uvalde shooting, his office said.
“He has to be in D.C. for personal reasons on Friday,” a Cornyn spokesperson said.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), another planned speaker, will not attend because he will be in Ukraine, a change that was made before the shooting took place, according to a spokesperson.
Country singers Larry Gatlin and Larry Stewart on Thursday announced that they will pull out of the NRA convention. Gatlin said in a statement that he could not “in good conscience” perform at the event and called on the NRA to drop its opposition to expanded background checks.
That comes after “American Pie” singer Don McLean told news organizations Wednesday that he will cancel his performance at the NRA due to Tuesday’s horrific attack.
“In light of the recent events in Texas, I have decided it would be disrespectful and hurtful for me to perform for the NRA at their convention in Houston this week,” McLean said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the AR-15-style weapon used by the suspected shooter, is no longer listed as an exhibitor at this weekend’s convention, according to the NRA’s website. Countless other gun manufacturers will promote their products at the event.
Activists push Houston to cancel the event
Scores of activist organizations are putting pressure on the city of Houston to block the NRA conference from taking place.
Advocacy group ParentsTogether collected more than 200,000 signatures within 24 hours calling on the local government corporation that owns the Houston convention center to cancel the event.
“While there are differences of opinion on the NRA and the exact current day interpretation of the Second Amendment, we should all be able to agree that it’s inappropriate for the largest gun lobbying organization in the world to host a celebratory convention in the very same state as this week’s mass elementary school shooting,” the group said.
Several local organizations, including Black Lives Matter Houston, Indivisible Houston and the Harris County Democratic Party, are preparing to protest the convention.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, told outraged residents this week that the city cannot prevent the event from taking place due to the threat of ensuing legal action.
“It’s a contractual arrangement. We simply cannot cancel a conference or convention because we do not agree with the subject matter,” Turner said during a public meeting Wednesday.
The NRA confirmed that the event will go on as scheduled, and indicated that the organization will address the devastating shooting. The NRA previously decided to hold its annual meeting after the 1999 Columbine, Colo., shooting after considering calling it off.
“As we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure,” the NRA said in a statement Wednesday.
Guns are banned during Trump’s speech
NRA members will not be allowed to carry guns during Friday’s forum that includes remarks from Trump and other high-profile Republicans.
The pro-gun group told attendees that the Secret Service will use magnetometers to screen attendees for guns, ammunition, holsters, magazines, gun parts and even toy guns, all of which are prohibited during the event.
Guns are allowed during other events at the annual meeting, but the NRA warned attendees of Friday’s forum that the convention center won’t provide storage for firearms.
Planned speakers benefited from NRA cash
The NRA shells out tens of millions of dollars in each election cycle to support GOP candidates, some of whom are set to speak at the NRA event Friday.
The pro-gun group spent nearly $48 million on ads backing Trump and attacking his Democratic opponents during the 2016 and 2020 elections, according to research group OpenSecrets. The pro-Trump ads accounted for the bulk of the NRA’s election spending in both contests.
Trump indicated support for expanding background checks on gun sales in 2019 following back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, but his tone changed after a meeting with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, where they reportedly discussed the president’s reelection campaign.
According to OpenSecrets, Cruz is the top recipient of campaign donations from gun rights interests, which include the NRA and other pro-gun groups. He’s received more than $442,000 over the course of his career. However, Cruz is only the No. 37 recipient of total NRA support, including donations and election ads, among members of Congress.
Democrats and gun control activists swiftly linked the NRA’s political spending to inaction in Congress.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Thursday that the NRA blocks bills to restrict access to guns by using “dark money political muscle,” noting that the group, like most political nonprofits, does not disclose the identities of its donors.
“It’s not the only place in which dark money political muscle has disabled the Congress, but it is certainly one of the worst,” he said.