HOUSTON (AP) — One by one, he took the stage at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention and condemned the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school across the state. And one after another, he insisted that changing US gun laws or further restricting access to firearms was not the answer.
“We must not react to evil and tragedy by abdicating the Constitution or infringing on the rights of our law-abiding citizens,” said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who was among the Republican leaders of gun rights lobbying groups. were in line to speak in front of him. Hundreds of protesters outraged by gun violence demonstrated outside on Friday.
Former President Donald Trump, in his remarks, called for “substantially” changing the country’s approach to mental health and “a top-down security overhaul in schools across this country”, while dismissing calls for further firearm restrictions. done.
“The existence of evil in our world is not a reason to disarm law-abiding citizens,” he said. “The existence of evil is one of the best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens.”
Read more: We asked every senator what action should be taken on guns. here’s what he said
Three days after the shooting in Uvalde and after it was revealed that students trapped inside a classroom with a gunman repeatedly called 911 during the attack – a “please send the police now” – because officers spent more than 45 hours in the hallway. Was waiting till minutes.
The NRA said convention attendees would “reflect” on the shootings at the event and “pray for the victims, recognize our Patriotic members and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools safer.”
The group’s chief executive Wayne Lapierre began with the comment, “Twenty-one beautiful lives ruthlessly and indiscriminately extinguished by a criminal monster.”
Still, he said that “restricting the fundamental human rights of law-abiding Americans to protect themselves is not the answer. It never has been.”
Later, hundreds of people stood in the auditorium and bowed their heads in a moment of silence for the victims of the Uvalde school shooting. There were many vacant seats.
Trump told the group that every school building should have an entrance, strong exterior fences, metal detectors and rigid classroom doors, and that every school should have a police officer or armed guard at all times. He once again called on trained teachers to be able to carry concealed weapons in the classroom.
He and other speakers ignored the security upgrades already in place at the elementary school and did not stop the gunman.
watch: Texas Department of Public Safety says Uvalde police waited 48 minutes before pursuing shooter
As per the District Security Plan, Uvalde Schools has a wide range of security measures. As per the plan, there were four police officers and four assistant counselors in the district, which appears to be from the 2019-20 school year. It also had software for monitoring social media and software for screening school attendees.
Security experts say Uvalde’s case shows how strengthening schools can backfire. A lock on the classroom door – one of the most basic and widely recommended school security measures – keeps victims in and police out.
This was the first meeting for the beleaguered organization since 2019 after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The organization is attempting to regroup after a period of serious legal and financial turmoil including a failed bankruptcy attempt, a class action lawsuit, and a fraud investigation by the New York Attorney General. Once one of the most powerful political organizations in the country, the NRA has seen its impact following a significant drop in political spending.
The program was supported by several Texas lawmakers and some scheduled speakers and performers, including “American Pie” singer Don McLean, who said “it would be disgraceful” to go ahead with their act after the country’s latest mass shooting. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said Friday morning that he had decided not to speak at an event breakfast after “prayers and discussions with NRA officials.”
“Despite being an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment and a member of the NRA, I do not wish my presence today to bring any additional pain or suffering to the families and all those suffering in Uvalde,” he wrote in a statement.
Outside the convention hall, hundreds of protesters gathered in a park, where police set up metal barriers – some holding crosses with photographs of Uvalde shooting victims.
Read more: Survivors of the 2018 attack at Parkland school talk about the recent mass shootings
“Killers!” Some shouted in Spanish. “You should be ashamed!” shouted at the other attendees.
Among the protesters was Little Joe, singer of the popular Tejano band Little Joe y La Familia, who said that in the more than 60 years he has toured the world, no other country has faced as many mass shootings as the US.
“Of course, it’s the best country in the world,” he said. “But if we can’t protect lives, especially of our children, what is it to us?”
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in the gubernatorial race, removed a list of past school shootings and called on convention attendees to “join us to make sure this Doesn’t happen in this country anymore.”
While President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have renewed calls for stricter gun laws in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting, NRA board members and others attending the convention rejected talk of banning or limiting access to firearms. done.
Samuel Thornberg, 43, a maintenance worker for Southwest Airlines in Houston who was attending the NRA meeting, said, “Guns aren’t evil. It’s the people who are committing crimes that are evil. Our schools are closed further.” Needs to be done. Needs to be more guarded.”
Speakers followed suit.
“Many of these killings have happened and we must take decisive action to stop them,” said Cruz, a potential 2024 presidential candidate. “But what is it that we should do?” He rejected Democrats’ calls for universal background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons.
Read more: How does US gun policy compare to the rest of the world?
In his view, “their so-called solutions could not stop these mass murders.”
Another potential presidential contender, South Dakota Gov. Christie Noem, said calls to further restrict gun access “are all about control and it’s garbage. I’m not buying it for a second and You shouldn’t buy either.”
Texas has experienced a series of mass shootings in recent years. During that time, the Republican-led legislature and governor relaxed gun laws.
There is an example of the NRA gathering during local mourning and controversy. The organization moved forward with a shortened version of their 1999 meeting in Denver, about a week after the fatal shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Most American adults think mass shootings would happen less if guns were harder to obtain and believe schools and other public places would become less safe than they were two decades ago, polls found .
Several specific measures that block access to guns or ammunition also have majority support. For example, a May AP-NORC survey found that 51 percent of American adults support a nationwide ban on the sale of AR-15 rifles and similar semi-automatic weapons. But the numbers are highly partisan, with 75 percent of Democrats agreeing and only 27 percent of Republicans.
In addition to Patrick, two Texas congressmen who were scheduled to speak on Friday – US Sen. John Cornyn and US Representative Dan Crenshaw – were no longer attending because their staff said there were changes to their schedules. Abbott, who was to attend, instead addressed the convention via pre-recorded video.
Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed from Jefferson City, Missouri.