(THE HILL) – Tuesday’s devastating mass shooting is thrusting the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual meeting in Houston, Texas, this weekend into the spotlight.
The pro-gun lobbying group’s convention, located roughly 300 miles from the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school where at least 19 children were shot and killed, is set to feature remarks from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former President Trump on Friday.
The NRA has successfully pushed GOP members of Congress to reject any bills that restrict access to guns, including a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and a bill to apply background checks to all gun sales. The influential group also took credit for a Texas law signed last year that allows individuals to carry handguns without a permit or training.
The timing and location of the NRA’s convention has sparked outrage among critics who blame the pro-gun group for enabling a large number of mass shootings that that only occur regularly in the U.S.
“Governor Abbott, if you have any decency, you will immediately withdraw from this weekend’s NRA convention and urge them to hold it anywhere but Texas,” Democratic Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke tweeted on Wednesday morning.
Also on Wednesday, Trump confirmed that he will still speak at the event through a post on his Truth Social platform.
“America needs real solutions and real leadership in this moment, not politicians and partisanship,” he wrote. “That’s why I will keep my longtime commitment to speak in Texas at the NRA Convention and deliver an important address to America.”
One of the NRA’s planned speakers, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), will not attend the convention, but his office said that the change was due to “an unexpected change in his schedule” that occurred prior to the Uvalde shooting.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Cruz and Abbott had not announced changes to their plans to speak at the NRA event Friday.
The group tweeted its own statement on Wednesday about the shooting, stating that its “deepest sympathies” go out to the victims’ families. The NRA further indicated that the event will take place.
“Although an investigation is underway and facts are still emerging, we recognize this was the act of a lone, deranged criminal. 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 safe.”
“Aren’t you slated to headline a speaking gig for the NRA in three days – in Houston, no less? You can do more than pray,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted at Cruz in response to his tweet praying for the elementary school victims.
The 18-year-old suspect in the Texas shooting, who is now deceased, allegedly stormed into the school wielding a handgun and an AR-15-style rifle with high-capacity magazines.
Local law enforcement officers said that the suspect legally purchased two AR-15-style rifles just a few days before the shooting and after turning 18.
Roughly 77 percent of mass shooters obtained at least some of their guns legally, according to a February analysis from the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice. The report’s researchers recommended that Congress pass a law requiring safe storage of guns and a “red flag” law allowing for officers to take guns away from individuals who pose a threat.
Tuesday’s massacre is the 27th school shooting this year, according to Education Week. This year alone, the U.S. has seen over 200 mass shootings, defined as incidents in which four or more victims are shot, according to the Gun Violence Archive, including a recent shooting in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., that left 10 dead.
The Uvalde incident was the deadliest school shooting since the 2012 Newtown, Conn., shooting that killed 20 children and six adults. That shooting sparked calls for stricter gun laws, but Senate Republicans blocked a widely popular bill from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to expand background checks on gun sales amid NRA opposition.
Advocates of stricter gun laws expressed concern that this time won’t be any different, citing the influence of the NRA and other gun rights groups.
Texas Republicans showed no indications that they would be open to tightening gun laws after the shooting. Cruz told MSNBC that efforts to restrict gun access would not be effective in preventing future massacres, instead of pushing for more armed officers at schools.
“As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” President Biden said in a televised speech Tuesday night. “When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”
The NRA has successfully blocked gun control legislation after each mass shooting that captures the nation’s attention and renews calls for congressional action, arguing that such legislation deprives Americans of their Second Amendment rights.
Following back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio in 2019, then-President Trump expressed support for expanding background checks on gun sales, but he distanced himself from the idea after meeting with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, effectively killing the effort.
The NRA said it “worked tirelessly” to back a bill allowing Texans to carry a handgun without the need for a license or training, overcoming opposition from some Texas law enforcement groups that said the law would make their jobs harder and more dangerous.
“A right requiring you to pay a tax or obtain a government permission slip is not a right at all, that’s why the NRA is proud to have worked closely with state leaders and legislators to pass the most significant pro-Second Amendment measure in Texas history,” Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm, said in a statement at the time.
The NRA’s finances have taken a hit in recent years, amid various lawsuits and allegations that LaPierre illegally spent NRA funds on trips to the Bahamas, luxury hotel suites and other noncharitable uses. The group brought in $282 million in 2020, according to tax filings, its lowest haul since 2012.
Still, the NRA from spent big on the 2020 election. The pro-gun group shelled out over $29 million on ads backing Trump and GOP congressional candidates and donated more than $786,000 to Republican candidates, according to research group OpenSecrets.
The House passed two Democratic-backed bills last year to strengthen background checks on gun sales, but Senate Republicans blocked the measures.
The lack of GOP cooperation has prompted advocates to push Democrats to end the 60-vote filibuster to pass gun control legislation. But Manchin on Wednesday told reporters that he wouldn’t support ending the filibuster for a gun bill.