May 3rd, 2013
02:57 PM ET
4 years ago

Gun control in crosshairs at NRA convention

(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.

"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

Filed under: Gun control • Gun rights • NRA • Rick Perry • Ted Cruz • Texas • Wayne LaPierre
soundoff (290 Responses)
  1. thinking outside the box

    @ Damon,

    Without a background check how can you verify that a person wishing to buy a gun is in fact a felon or mentally unstable?

    May 3, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  2. jinx9to88

    Cruz said he wants to debate Biden, good grief. Cruz is D-A and needs to do what he and the rest of the GOP do best "nothing". He must have missed the debate with Biden and Paul. Paul was embarrassed!!!

    May 3, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    "Let me guess, liberal arts degree? 🙂 "

    Let me guess, 3rd grade dropout?

    May 3, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  4. Liberal

    IF something doesn't help the situation then doing it for the sake of doing it is obviously asinine.

    May 3, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  5. Liberal

    California in the 90's asked people to register their assult weapons and a year or so later used that registration list to go after them and conficate them.

    I can see why peopel don't trust the government.

    May 3, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  6. Bob

    I see the usual blood stained gun nut freak jobs are here spouting their ignorance of the Consitution while worshipping their mis-interpretation of the 2nd amendment as though it were the second coming of the Christ they claim to believe in.

    May 3, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |

    The Guns Over People tea potty will snap up those cricket guns for their five year old kids while there. If they shoot their siblings,oh well.

    May 3, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  8. Jaime

    Scarf: I couldn't have said it better myself. But you speak logic. These people will not understand why the assault weapons ban did not produce any results. They just know that it didn't. At a January 15, 2013 conference at Johns Hopkins, the author of the study that reviewed the assault weapons ban stated that he believes it would be successful if it were re-implemented without a sunset provision. Indeed, if you read the original study, that is exactly what it says. But the NRA and gun lovers don't really want people to know that.

    May 3, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  9. Liberal

    May 1st, 2013
    07:06 PM ET

    1 day ago

    California law shifts $24 million to gun-confiscation program
    An article here on CNN May 1st. You don't think the government wants to confiscate guns? THINK AGAIN.

    May 3, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  10. Gurgyl

    USA needs gun ban.

    May 3, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  11. don in albuquerque

    Does the word "paradnoia" mean anything to ya'?

    May 3, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  12. don in albuquerque

    Ooops finger slipped on paranoia, sp.........

    May 3, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    "Without a background check how can you verify that a person wishing to buy a gun is in fact a felon or mentally unstable?"

    Indeed....but that's the whole point. By having a legalized black market via loopholes like the gun show loophole, it makes it easier for there to be gun violence...gun violence that the NRA then turns around and claims if proof that everyone owning a gun for "self defense" is the only solution. Gun violence sells guns. It's that simple.

    May 3, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  14. Liberal

    Gun confiscation is clearly Anti-American.

    That is a fact.

    May 3, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  15. Liberal

    I'm starting to dislike my own party and for good reason.

    May 3, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  16. MaryM

    Gun confiscation is clearly Anti-American.
    No one wants to take away your precious weapons

    May 3, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  17. harry

    wow bob, you have provided so much info about your disdain for christ and gun owners. your a prime example why the nra supports further research in the mental health sector..

    May 3, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    "Ooops finger slipped on paranoia, sp........."

    Don't worry about it. Everyone knows that fingers only slip on keyboards, never triggers.

    May 3, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  19. Data Driven

    I love Rick Perry. Texas is the only place on earth with freedom! Bwa!

    May 3, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  20. Liberal

    California mulls letting noncitizens serve on juriesBy Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
    updated 10:12 AM EDT, Thu May 2, 2013
    I never thought I'd say this but the right is actually looking better than the alternative.

    May 3, 2013 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  21. Liberal


    Gun confiscation is clearly Anti-American.
    No one wants to take away your precious weapons
    California law shifts $24 million to gun-confiscation program This is a CNN article just 2 days ago. I posted it above also. I'll believe CNN over you.

    May 3, 2013 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  22. Freedom isn't free

    People in this country have the right to bear arms. You liberal pinko's need to do some read the 2nd amendment,

    May 3, 2013 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  23. scarf

    California law shifts $24 million to gun-confiscation program
    An article here on CNN May 1st. You don't think the government wants to confiscate guns? THINK AGAIN.
    This is to confiscate guns from people who aren't supposed to have them in the first place, i.e. criminals. Funny, the gun lobby says we don't need more laws, we just need to enforce the laws we already have. But, when we start to do that, they are suddenly opposed to enforcing the laws we already have.

    May 3, 2013 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  24. Data Driven

    Hey "Liberal", feel free to also quote the numbers from that California guns article. 20,000 convicted felons, wife-batterers, and mentally unstable individuals in that state own 40,000 guns ILLEGALLY. Nice try, though.

    May 3, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  25. 2020

    Crosshair on NRA they know it

    May 3, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
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