(CNN) – Within minutes of the National Rifle Association's opening forum at their annual meeting Friday, the group's leaders went after gun control proposals and advocates who sought to expand tougher firearm laws following the Newtown elementary school massacre.
"Where we see tragedy, Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg, they see opportunity," said Chris Cox, the executive director for the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.
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"While we pray for God to comfort those suffering unimaginable pain, they rush to microphones and cameras, gather in war rooms on Capitol Hill and scheme about how to use that suffering to push their political agenda," he continued. "That's who they are and what they believe, but not us."
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, wearing a shirt that said "women hunt," also accused the president of being disingenuous in the wake of tragedy, pointing to the Newtown families who appeared at political events at the invitation of the president.
"The politics of emotion, it's the opposite of leadership. It's the manipulation of the people by the politicians for their own political ends. It's not just self-serving. It's destructive and it must stop," she said.
Tens of thousands of NRA members and supporters are gathered in Houston this weekend, just weeks after the Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to push forward with a bipartisan proposal to expand the background check system for firearm purchases. A proposed assault weapons ban was also defeated.
The vote was seen as a major victory among anti-gun control advocates and among those in the gun lobby, who argued the measure would not have prevented mass shootings like those seen in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado last year.
Gun control supporters, on the other hand, saw the vote as a catalyst to keep pushing for tougher gun laws.
But Cox argued those who want more firearm regulations on the books are simply using the recent tragedies to push their political agendas.
"We are the moms and dads and sons of daughters of the National Rifle Association, and we want to prevent Newtown, not take advantage of it," Cox said.
Responding to some of the comments made at the NRA convention, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said he was dismayed by the "celebratory" mood at the gathering.
Some of the remarks are "disgusting, particularly since President Obama was doing what the NRA refuses to do - standing with and fighting for families who have lost loved ones as a result of gun violence. I also think the celebratory atmosphere at the NRA's national conference is disgusting," he said in a statement.
The senator argued the group is "consigning itself to irrelevance" as it "celebrates" its legislative victory.
Around 75,000 people are expected to attend, based on registration and past attendance, with 550 vendors also planning to show up.
Wayne LaPierre, executive Vice President of the NRA, scolded the media for what he described as distorting the gun debate in favor of gun control advocates and arguing that those in Washington and the "elites" are demonizing NRA members.
"We know that every word spoken today and throughout this weekend is going to be scrutinized by our opponents but let me make this perfectly clear, we will never back away from our resolve to defend our rights and the rights of all law-abiding American gun owners."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry also took a swipe at the nation's capital, comparing it to his home state, which he said never loses "faith in the founding fathers' wisdom to include the Second Amendment of the Constitution among the Bill of Rights."
"I wish that sentiment was found in more places, particularly a place whose boundaries are on the Potomac River," he said.
"Our message to them, and our message to everyone in the country, is simple," he continued, adding a plug to the Lone Star State. "There is still a place that loves freedom in America, where people can pursue their dreams free from the kneejerk government regulations that occur. That place is called Texas. That place is called Texas. We want to invite you, if you're not already here, consider coming to the place that loves freedom."
Perry, known for attempting to draw business to his state from other states, also made a pitch to gun manufacturers leaving states that are enacting what he called "draconian" gun laws. PTR Industries of Bristol in Connecticut, for example, said last month it was leaving the state after the state government passed sweeping gun legislation.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, meanwhile, touted his effort to block gun control legislation in the Senate and challenged Vice President Joe Biden to a debate. Biden leads a task force for the Obama administration on coming up with a set of gun control proposals and was a main liaison between the White House and Congress in the final days before the Senate voted on the measures.
"I would like to invite the Vice President to engage in an hour long conversation and debate – how do we stop crime? And if Vice President Biden really believes the facts are on his side, that this is not simply an exercise in political power by the administration, then I think he would welcome the opportunity to talk about the sources," he said.
Coincidentally, Cruz and Biden will be within two miles of each other Friday night in South Carolina, where they're both scheduled to deliver speeches as separate events.
Also Friday, the widow of Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL and expert sniper who was fatally shot at a gun range in February, gave an emotional speech at the event, where she fought back tears to describe her husband who had become known as a hero among members of the military and gun enthusiasts. In his autobiography, he claimed he killed 160 people during five combat tours in Iraq, a record for a U.S. military sniper.
"While publishers and some parts of the public are impressed with numbers of kills, that number did not interest him, a number that would have been much more important to him would have been if someone could have told him the number of lives he saved," Taya Kyle said.
Along with Perry and Cruz, a number of other potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates spoke at the event. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan, former GOP vice presidential nominee, addressed the crowd via video.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who battled eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney deep into the 2012 primary season, warned in a broader argument that Obama was attacking Americans' freedoms on a larger scale. His remarks echoed refrains from many of his campaign speeches.
He also praised NRA supporters for weathering the gun control debate, calling them "freedom warriors."
"You stood tall–as unpopular as it seemed–but you stood for the truth. You didn't let all the smoke and the mirrors of trying to hide behind a horrible tragedy, to turn you from the truth," he said, though he received a more tepid response from the audience than some of the other speakers.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also targeted Obama in a highly-political speech, attacking the president not only over gun control, but also over the deficit, health care and taxes.
"I believe he wants to be a good president, but he does have a lack of trust. He doesn't trust Americans, like you and I trust Americans. He will not succeed until that changes," he said.
A number of gun control advocates under fire at the NRA are set to go to Houston, as well. Erica Lafferty, daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, wants to reach out to NRA members and share her viewpoint. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, one of several gun control groups using this week's Congressional recess to bring the gun control message to the states, said Friday they would air an ad in the Houston market during the convention featuring a gun owner and NRA member whose sister was shot and killed by her husband, who should have been prohibited from buying guns but was able to purchase a firearm online without a background check.
Media from around the world are covering the NRA event, including journalists from Australia, Denmark and India, according to Alexa Fritts, an NRA representative.
At last year's meeting in St. Louis, 81% of attendees were male, and 62% described themselves as hunters, according to an informal survey taken at the convention. Nearly eight in 10 said they participate in NRA activities six or more times a year, and two-thirds said they spend more than $500 a year on shooting/hunting equipment.
Just over half–53%–traveled more than 200 miles to attend the convention and see the exhibits.
– CNN's Athena Jones, Todd Sperry, Adam Levy and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.
READ MORE: NRA gears up for big weekend
NRA is not pro-gun-rights. NRA is anti-gun-safety.
Unfortunately, as I was cruising my cable TV I came across Palin walking onto the stage at the NRA....has anyone told this disgusting woman that at nearly 50 she needs to dress appropriately? She looked like a refugee from a circus. I turned her off because this woman is a sad commentary on life today. She thinks she has something to say and the only people who are listening are the sad, ignorant masses who gathered in Houston for the NRA meeting. Figures it would be in Texas, the state with the dumbest people on earth.....how else would you describe the state who voted for Rick Perry? He is a cartoon character and if I lived there would hide my license plate not wanting anyone to know I lived in that state. I wish Mexico would come and take them back, the IQ of the state is about my shoe size!
And that NRA guy, Wayne LaPierre is mentally deranged....his holding onto the Second Amendment is sick. It was not written for 2013, but the 1700's. How can you not see that? And for the NRA to say that Obama and Bloomberg use tragedies to further their cause is ridiculous. Before Palin walked on the stage there was a quick pan of the audience and it was so typical of any NRA gathering, toothless men with long greasy hair, women who obviously never pass up a KFC and the stupidest signs imaginable. The NRA clearly panders to the "trailer crowd" and when they gather it really comes out clear who they are.....disturbed people who have their heads somewhere else....certainly not the type of people you want to live near you!
The Senate vote was a victory for lobbyists. When a Senate rule blocks an actual vote, democracy is only obstructed – not demonstrated. The Senate vote not to block the filibuster was a victory for politicians too afraid of lobbyists to do what 90% of Americans want done. Time to throw those who blocked democracy out of our Congress.
Looking at all these comments from the baby-aborting liberals that mental illness is widespread. Since most mass murderers come from liberal states and are inspired by liberal principals, I think all liberals should be placed on a terrorist watch list.
NRA lies and Americans die, every freaking day. Time to get rid of the NRA and the congressman, both sides, that the NRA supports
One thing that is rather sickening is the lies liberals tell. I double dog dare anyone tell me how to buy a gun online without a back ground check.
In Texas it's perfectly legal to buy a gun on-line from a popular gun auction website and transfer that weapon to a Texas buyer w/o any background check or FFL. It's also very common to buy a weapon via gun forums and transfer w/o an FFL. Look it up. You are dead wrong on this comment.
What happened to the land of the free. All you gun grabbing morons think that any new gun law is going to stop criminals. If you notice places the have tight gun laws you see more shooting. America is a country run on fear. Media is always instilling fear. Dont believe me turn on the news.... Shooting ,robberies,kidnappings, ect. Untill you realize why the government controls by fear we will never solve anything.
Rick Perry says, "come to freedom loving, regulation-free Texas". Ask the residents of West, Texas, how that freedom with lack of regulations is working out. As far as you gun nuts go, your gun-lust is driven almost exclusively by paranoia and cowardice.
I love beer and would fight against a second round of Prohibition. At the same time, there are some evils that come from irresponsibly drinking, and I'm glad that the wine, spirits, and beer industry at least says "Please drink responsibly", makes donations/contributions to organizations like M.A.D.D. and S.A.D.D., supports and tries to prevent underage drinking, and is generally a responsible, law-abiding industry with smart, logical leaders that aren't paying off politicians and constantly lobbying any more than any normal business might do. I'm a bit ashamed of the NRA though. They tend to never attempt to help solve any of the problems that come with gun ownership, constantly fight for fewer and fewer restrictions regardless of whether they make sense, and are always spending their money to try to secure votes or inform/misinform politicians rather than actually use more of their money to try to prevent unnecessary gun violence, illegal firearm use/ownership, and so on. I don't see the beer industry getting together and, every time a drunk driving accident occurs, getting defensive and saying that there's nothing we can do to prevent it and that we'd be safer if children were allowed to drink alcohol without restrictions so that they could build up a tolerance and learn their limits by the time they were old enough to drive. That is the sort of reaction you constantly get with the NRA and they never seem to want to help solve or mitigate any of the unfortunate problems that come with gun ownership.
NRA meeting, this is 1 place where there should be a mass shooting, to thin out these people who if they had to pass a test to be able to buy a gun. would never be able to own a gun. talk about dumn, these people "NRA members" lead the pack for dumn!!!
The NRA had little to do with gun legislation not passing. It was the daily briefings the FBI was giving to the ruling class that gun backround checks had peaked off the charts. While gun control legislation was being debated, all over the county everyday citizens from all walks of life and backrounds where buying every gun and box of ammo they could get thier hands on. Gun shops, sporting goods stores, and gun shows where packed to capacity with those eager to arm themselves and shelves where left baren. I was at a 1200 table gun show yesterday in SE PA and it was packed shoulder to shoulder when it opened. It was the most diverse and multi cultural event of its type I have ever seen. There where rich and poor, black and white, liberal and conservative, male and female, gay and strait, first time gun buyers and proffessional marksmen, all united under the same roof happy and free. Don't fall for the fear and division that those in the ruling class sow into its subjects to maintain their monopoly of power. Go out to these events, educate yourselves, ask questions, learn the truth. You will find that these "gun nutz" are just like you and me. -Armed and Liberal
"All you gun grabbing morons think that any new gun law is going to stop criminals."
No law stops criminals since it's the very breaking of the law that MAKES them a criminal. Derp.
And with that said, what's your point? That we simply shouldn't have any laws because they can all be broken? I guess that's Conservative logic for you...
"Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, ..... also accused the president of being disingenuous in the wake of tragedy, pointing to the Newtown families who appeared at political events at the invitation of the president. "The politics of emotion, it's the opposite of leadership. It's the manipulation of the people by the politicians for their own political ends." I seldom agree with things that Sarah Palin says, but I have to admit, she is right on with this comment. Obama and his cronies use every opportunity to take advantage of these people's suffering only to try to make political points. It's sickening how low these politicians will go.
got to be kidding, Sarah is one of their speakers. good grief talk about a an empty cult full of suckers.
@Alex Santana The 2nd Amendment doesn't apply to 2013? You're sick. It was just 80 years ago that gunless Jews were put in ovens in Germany. If you think the framers didn't have the future in mind, then I urge you and all the other people who think like you to make Obama king and give up all your rights. Why vote? Americans are lied to through the media by both sides everyday, trying to control us. The Constitution is all we have. The Founders fought and died for these rights that so many are willing to give up so easily these days. Our Constitution is the pinnacle of a free society and has inspired countless other countries, why do we not value it more? I don't know about you, but if it came down to it I'd rather die free with a rifle in my hand than in a camp with a bar code on my neck.