Gun Control Advocates Rally for Action as NRA Convention Proceeds
HOUSTON — The National Rifle Association commenced its annual meeting in Houston on Friday, days after the third-deadliest school shooting in United States history took place roughly 280 miles away.
The NRA meeting was met with crowds of protesters who organized across the street in downtown Houston’s Discovery Green park to counter its presence. Demonstrators held a vigil at city hall on Thursday to mourn the victims and call on the NRA to abandon its plans for this weekend, a call that went unheeded.
On Friday, the temperature hung around in the 90s and organizers of the demonstration reminded those in attendance to combat the heat by staying hydrated and out of the sunlight if possible. In contrast, attendees at the NRA convention enjoyed the air conditioning inside the George R. Brown Convention Center as they browsed booths and exhibits.
Rows of protestors were lined up on Avenida De Las Americas across the street from the building, yelling obscenities and chanting slogans at those they witnessed entering and leaving the tightly guarded convention center. Some scoffed and ignored the jeers while others engaged and heaved their own insults right back.
Former U.S. congressman and Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke addressed the crowd during the event. He spoke in remembrance of the victims in Uvalde and urged those attending the NRA convention to find common ground with their counterparts.
“To those who are attending the NRA convention across the street — you are not our enemies, we are not yours,” O’Rourke said. “We extend our hands open and unarmed, in a gesture of peace and fellowship to welcome you to join us to make sure that this no longer happens in this country. But the time for you to respond and to join us is now. We cannot wait any longer for you.”
O’Rourke’s calls for unity in the face of tragedy were well received by the crowd, who applauded him enthusiastically throughout his address. After he finished his remarks, the floor was turned over to youth organizers who talked about their disapproval of the status quo for gun regulations in the nation.
Joshua Martin, student body president of the University of Houston, told the crowd they must choose what kind of state they want to live in for the next few years when they arrive at the polls in November.
“Gov. Abbott seems to blame everything that’s going on with the mental health crisis,” Martin said on Friday. “Like he thinks that we’re foolish enough to actually believe that mental health is only a problem in the United States.”
The collective exasperation was palpable all day in the park. Those protesting the convention vented their discontent and carried signs that conveyed their frustration. It was clear what they all stood for and wanted from lawmakers — more comprehensive background checks when purchasing a firearm, red flag laws, bans on semiautomatic military-style assault weapons and steeper penalties for those who commit gun crimes.
On the other hand, gun rights advocates have other solutions in mind for preventing mass shootings. They have called for improved access to mental health resources, allotting funds for school security, decreasing the number of entry points into school buildings, stationing police guards directly on their campuses and even arming teachers. Some of these ideas have been implemented to some degree in the state, and yet the robust safety protocols of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District didn’t prevent a massacre from taking place.
The Association of Texas Professional Educators told The Well News that it has not taken an official position on arming teachers.
“Polling of our members following previous school shootings revealed mixed opinions and no clear consensus on a policy direction related to arming teachers, except that the association supports local control and decision-making in this area and believes that no teacher or other district employee should be forced to carry a weapon against their will,” Jennifer Mitchell, governmental relations director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said in a written statement shared with The Well News.
“Additionally, ATPE’s House of Delegates has not opted to add language to our legislative program outlining a position on arming teachers. We continue to advocate for other school safety initiatives and recommendations that are addressed in the ATPE Legislative Program.”
Mitchell said the association continues to advocate for other school safety initiatives and made recommendations through its legislative program. However, ATPE does not believe sufficient funding has been allocated to enable all districts to institute the comprehensive changes needed to implement the “school hardening” trumpeted by some state leaders in response to the Uvalde tragedy.
Chris Nallie-Courtney was mad as hell when approached to share her thoughts. The state government’s response to Uvalde “makes absolutely no sense” to her.
A resident of nearby Friendswood, Nallie-Courtney has been a practicing general civil attorney for 24 years, she told The Well News. Her kids have graduated high school and are in college now, but she said they used to fear going to school.
“I’m here because this means something,” Nallie-Courtney said. “Not one kid should have to die because somebody wants an AR-15. I think that’s what we have the best chance of doing but I think we should have more legislation than just that.”
She decried the “GOP talking points” that are used to justify the subversion of gun control measures that are commonplace in other countries. She said she comes across and interacts with plenty of people in her line of work, and in her experience, people have a very low tolerance for “complexities.”
Simply put — people prefer it when things are easy. In her view, this is what leads many in the gun rights community to oppose efforts to add restrictions on the weapons themselves and assert instead that guns are not the problem. It’s an act of subversion to drum out hysteria from a political base, she said.
Across the street, Sandra and Ronald Blaylock were just arriving at the convention center after a long drive from Dalton, Georgia. The husband and wife are in their 70s and wanted to experience the festivities firsthand. They described themselves as “fervent, freedom-loving red-blooded Americans,” but expressed an openness to adding restrictions on people’s access to AR platform rifles.
“There needs to be some stuff added [to the laws],” Ronald told The Well News. “I don’t believe that kid in the mental condition he was in should have gotten those guns. But you also have to understand the implications of red flag laws.”
Those implications, he said, were that mere accusations would be enough to trigger gun confiscations by authorities. From there, Americans approach a slippery slope that may very well result in rights being lost. They support oversight but not overreach, they said.
Then finally, the human embodiment of compromise appeared in front of the convention center. One man was leaving the exhibition hall wearing an “NRA” hat displayed in bold yellow print and a “Beto for Texas” t-shirt at the same time.
His name was Doug Gehrke, a retired U.S. Army veteran from Pearland, and he said he had only been an NRA member for about a year. In his mind, his support for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate and membership with the NRA do not conflict. His stance is simple—he supports the ownership and carrying of handguns but not rifles.
Gehrke’s experience in the Army informed his stance on gun control, he said. He has seen for himself what military-grade weaponry does when unleashed upon the human body. Gehrke’s explanation for the political hysterics surrounding gun control arguments was also just as simple.
“Well, it’s because the politicians for 50 years have been saying ‘They’re going to take our guns away,’” he told The Well News. “It’s a good argument for them to keep the money flowing in.”
Reece can be reached at [email protected] and https://twitter.com/ReeceNWrites
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