by Brandon Formby, The Texas Tribune
DALLAS — The National Rifle Association’s annual meeting here this week, featuring scheduled appearances by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, is expected to draw tens of thousands of gun-rights advocates and plenty of protests. Here’s what you need to know about the group’s first convention in Texas since 2013.
Supporters call it ‘the premier Second Amendment celebration’
The three-day event begins Friday at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. Hundreds of vendors, including all of the country’s major firearm companies, will be spread out over 650,000 square feet offering their wares to hunters, gamers, ranchers and gun enthusiasts. There are also training and advocacy events, concerts and the organization’s annual membership meeting.
More than 70,000 people are expected to attend.
“It’s the premier Second Amendment celebration in the United States,” said NRA spokesman Jason Brown.
As an NRA member and the legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association, Alice Tripp has been to several of the annual meetings. She said they’re “absolutely huge” and draw passionate gun owners from all over the country.
“It’s important to them to never miss one,” Tripp said. “It’s the family vacation. And God bless them. I’m all for it.”
Protests and counter-events already planned
Since the NRA’s last annual meeting, gun-control advocates have been galvanized by multiple mass shootings including the deadliest in U.S. history, at a Las Vegas concert; Texas’ most deadly, at a church in Sutherland Springs; and one at a school in Parkland, Florida, that sparked nationwide protests.
Opponents of the NRA, which also acts as a powerful lobbying group, and proponents for stricter gun-control laws are planning multiple protests, a “die-in” and advocacy training to coincide with the event.
The meeting comes after several marches calling for stricter gun controlhappened across the country, many of them organized by high school students reacting to the Parkland massacre. The NRA event also falls days after the funeral of a Dallas police officer who was fatally shot by a shoplifting suspect and less than two years since five Dallas and Dallas Area Rapid Transit police officers were killed by a gunman at a downtown protest.
Many of the NRA event’s attendants will be carrying firearms, but Brown said he doesn’t expect any violence to break out even if there are protestors outside the convention center.
“We’ve never had incidents like that at NRA events,” he said.
Plenty of top U.S. and Texas officials will be there
It’s Trump’s fourth consecutive year to speak to the NRA, which spent more than any other outside group on the president’s behalf during his successful 2016 election campaign, according to The Washington Post.
“Although Trump voiced support after the Parkland shootings for raising the age to buy rifles to 21, he backed off the proposal after meeting with NRA officials,” the Post reported. “Aides said Trump still supported the idea but recognized that there was limited backing in Congress to make such a change to federal law.”
But Trump last month signed into law a federal budget that included language that aims to improve the national background check system in order to prevent felons and domestic abusers from purchasing firearms. Cornyn championed that provision after the Sutherland Springs shooting. The church shooter was an Air Force veteran with a record of domestic abuse convictions, meaning he should not have been allowed to purchase firearms.
Partial prohibition on firearms is being criticized
While NRA members are accustomed to carrying guns during the annual meeting, that’s now forbidden at the event where Trump and Pence are speaking.
People who have become gun-control advocates after this year’s deadly shooting at Parkland High School have portrayed the situation as hypocritical. That includes Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed at the Florida high school.
“According to the NRA, we should want everyone to have weapons when we are in public,” Guttenberg said on Twitter. “But when they put on a convention, the weapons are a concern? I thought giving everyone a gun was to enhance safety. Am I missing something?”
Tripp, the state rifle association official, shrugged off such criticisms.
“That was nobody’s call but the Secret Service’s,” she said. “The Secret Service is in total and absolute control of the president’s and vice president’s security.”
The NRA won’t have to pay rent
The cost of renting the convention center for an event the size and length of NRA’s meeting would normally cost about $410,000. But Dallas Morning News columnist Robert Wilonsky revealed earlier this year that the NRA is getting a free ride.
The city gave the group a discount of more than $22,000, and the remaining $387,000 or so was covered by a public improvement district funded by hotel revenues.
But, convention and visitors bureau officials told Wilonsky, the event is expected to spur attendants to spend more than $42.5 million while they’re in town.