(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
I proudly support repealing the 2nd Amendment.
What a long article for what could have been summed up thus: NRA gathers in the gun lobby echo chamber to continue repeating its rhetoric and hyperbole while declaring anybody who disagrees with them as being un-American....
...what was that about the politics of emotion again failed-Governor Palin?
Fear mongers @ the wheel in Texas NRA meeting !!! Ted Nugent ... a fine example of a member in good standing.
Anonymous, you just try and buy a firearm at a gun show in the People's Republic of CA. I guarantee you, that before you take more than a dozen steps towards the exit, you will be headed for a 5-10 year engagement to a lifer at San Quentin. And please please share with us all, how one buys and TAKES DELIVERY of a firearm off the internet. Unless of course, you are being so typically disingenuous, that you are referring to obsolete antique black powder muzzle loading historic weapons.
My life long NRA membership & commitment to the Values that the NRA defends at every instance makes me proud!!!
We stand together or surely we will defeated separately!
Arm Up America! Exercise your 2nd amendment rights and teach your families well that freedom has always had a price we must be willing to pay to keep the good'loe USA our free country!
While it is true that background checks do nothing to stop the secondary market, they do make it easier to trace who it is who's doing the selling in that market, if those weapons are ever used in a crime, so it would be a positive step – a step that does nothing to injure or impair the legitimate firearm owner.
@ Marie MD ... what Militia are you a member of ?
I did not get a chance to go to the show today but already have my pass for tomorrow.
AMERICANS ARE NOT EVIL
Americans (gun and non-gun owners alike) are actually good people despite what our media and the rest of the world would have you believe.
Some interesting facts come to light when you read the UNESCO report on gun violence world wide, UNESCO is funded by the U.N. and has no ties to the NRA, the FBI or any American group, so it's reports tends to show both the good and bad about U.N. member countries.
While the U.S. ranks #1 in private gun ownership we only rank 26th world wide for gun violence. I bet that comes as a surprise to some people, as it runs contrary to what we hear and see daily on TV shows and the news.
Even more shocking is that without gang violence inflating our murder rate the US ranks in the low 150's out of a 193 U.N. countries, very close to the bottom of the chart! right in with Sweden and the U.K.
While the U.N. does not like the fact we allow private gun ownership, their own research supports the fact that America does not have a gun problem and that U.S. gun owners are safe, respectful, and most are not crazy like the media would have you believe.
Simply put without Gang violence the U.S. gun murder rate ranks well below almost a hundred countries that completely ban guns.
But where does that leave us? Number one we have to face the fact we are to blame for most of the issues we face. How long have we let politicians turn us against one another over abortion, gun rights, or gay marriage while they get away with ignoring the abject poverty they've cause in our inner cities.
Poverty and failing school systems fall squarely at the feet of your elected officials, who are more than willing to turn you against one another as long as they avoid being held accountable for the chaos they've caused.
While Sandy Hook and Aurora Colorado create a media storm causing us to focus our attention on mental health and gun control, we need to address our societal and leadership shortfalls on a daily basis and not wait for the next tragedy.
Sadly the American people have become so polarized against one another that we hardly have time to notice the daily travesties that happen all around us.
In the U.S. every single day 150 children go missing forever!!
In the U.S. every single day 27 people are killed in gang violence.
In the U.S. every single day 250 rapes are perpetrated.
The U.N. report clearly shows that guns are not a problem in the U.S. but we still choose them as the bogey man in the argument as it's far easier than addressing poverty, failing schools and a corrupt government.
If you like this article then please forward it, as I found it enlightening that America is not the rampant cesspool the media describes and that the American people statistically rank quite well against the rest of the world.
But on the other hand feeling good about yourself doesn't mean you get to slack off and let your elected officials ignore the real issues in this country.
The UNESCO (Intentional Gun Homicides) report can be found on Wikipedia
The yearly FBI report on gang related homicides was use to determine our "Gang free" murder rate, which varies from 65% to 80% depending on city.
A median factor of 70% was chosen to fair.
I am a little dumbfounded.... Isn't doing background checks on all for the sake of weeding out those that shouldn't have guns be a good thing? I mean you all say we don't need gun control, only a solution to treat mental illness. But background checks gaurentee to do just that. No? And whats with the paranoia with the gov knowing who selling guns to whom? This isn't the militia days? No?
i am reminded of Texas Governor Bill Clements–as I remember. When speaking of rape woman should just lean back and enjoy it. NRA and gun deaths–just lean back and enjhoy.
You idiots that say the second amendment only applies to muskets...ok, I'll play along. If that's the case then the First Amendment (which, BTW, would cease to exist without the Second) only applies to print media. Radio, television, and the internet are not protected under your ridiculously flawed logic since those formats didn't exist when the Bill of Rights was written.
Increased communications media doesn't directly increase a person's capability to kill school kids – but yes, it may need intrepretation from time to time. A good example would be a person yelling "fire" in a crowded building as a prank. That form of speech is illegal.
The 2nd Admendment refers to a "well-regulated militia" which gun-nuts have decided is a group of over-weight bubbas with goatees, tatoos and military fantasies. It doesn't describe "arms" but this is where common sense must be enployed. Do you think hell-fire missles and claymores should be legal? They are "arms". Last – the 2nd does not authorize radicals who don't want an African American President to unilaterally decide our government has become oppressive – and use weapons to kill American Soldiers or Police Officers. Again – that's a seditious fantasy of the right-wing and a lot like domestic terrorism. Grow up and adjust to the challenges of 2013 – not 1776.
That's right Iibtards, shall not infringe, don't you ever forget it.
What they describe at the opening of this article (the NRA)
is exactly the opposite of the way it really is
I grew up with guns
I have guns
But this resistance to some rules is paranoid, unhealthy, and promotes a culture of fear and violence
Jim, I am sure Texas will be glad to have you, and NY will be happy to see you leave
My guess is that every one of the hicks attending this rally has at least one criminal for a BFF or relative, and they just don't want their right to own firearms infringed upon.
This is an outright lie. The people trying to modify existing gun laws are not doing so to push any political agenda they are trying to save lives and on the contrary, the NRA IS using these shootings to sell more guns. Anyone who believes the rhetoric coming from the NRA is delusional. I am a multiple gun owner.
COntinued incontrolled proliferation of guns in soceity will not stop any crime.
Were it not for the fact that it creates delays in getting us to better and more appropriate gun control laws in this nation, I would actually enjoy watching the right wing consume itself! The more grimly that hold on to this issue, the more they alienate the much larger and more reasonable majority. The day of reckoning is coming for the GOP – and when they're looking for the reason – they need only check the mirror.
Continued uncontrolled proliferation of guns into our society will not stop any crime.
Whatever....freedom of choice when it suits your purpose? You know how many assault vacuums and assault hammers have been used by Gosnell. Where was your coverage of the baby killer during the trial? Non-existent. Stop trying to push the WH agenda that has generated more apathy than support. The public, myself included, can see what's going on. Your time is over.
The NRA and anyone who supports it are the most ignorant morons on the face of the earth. How heartless they are not to at least agree to background checks? If they are so sure only law abiding people buy guns and register than properly, then what are they afraid of? The just don't want anyone to change the way they have been doing business. My bet is that the elections will show the big mistake the GOP made by not at least agreeing to background checks. The NRA would have shown they are at least willing to compromise, but that "rodent looking" LaPierre and the "aging badly" Palin make themselves sound so stupid. Their day will come when they will regret all this rhetoric not willing to budget at all. How can the NRA not even flinch when they heard about the 5 year old boy shooting his 2 year old sister? This "a gun makes a boy a man" will haunt that family and town forever. But, the NRA drones just roll on saying it was an accident, which it was, but if this mentality is allowed to exist that guns are okay, this will happen more and more. How sick is that?
Judging by many of the comments of people posting on this board, it's even more urgent that stricter gun legislation is passed. After all, we are all in agreement that mentally unstable people shouldn't have access to firearms, right ?
I believe the NRA's chief lobbyist is the same Chris Cox that was Chairman of the SEC during the 2008 financial collapse. He has not proven to be a good steward of public service.
LaPierre and the rest of his merry band of Birthers claim, "Where we see tragedy Obama sees opportunity". LaPierre and his ilkare projecting... again. La Pierre and the gun manufacturers see gun massacre tragedy as opportunity. Jjust after Loughner shot and killed nine people in AZ, the type of gun Loughner used instantly saw record sales. I thought that showed that the USA has some real sickos,inspired by a terrorist act to buy the terrorist's gun, but I thought, maybe they are just conservatives who hate Democrats so much that they applauded Loughner for giving his best shot, but then Sandyhook occured, and instantly, as soon as it was learned there might be an AR-15 involved, it the AR-15 also broke sales records. What kind of sick f&%# thinks, "wow, 20 kids blown away, thats the gun for me!"? The rest of the idiots speaking at that event all paraded their dishonest flammatory drivel which sounded more like Osama Bin Laden speeches than a Red White and Blue patriot speech. Any myth that conservatives are for small government should have been dispelled decades if not millennia ago. In Texas you can carry around whatever gun you want, neglectfully leave it out on a table so a kid can accidently blow his brains out, but get caught smoking cannabis as a dying cancer patient, its the slammer for you, on the count of all the freedom in Texas. Osama Bin Laden also bragged about all the freedom the Taliban provided compared to the "oppression" of the USSR, the oppression of a comparatively vibrant economy, safe streets, mini-skirts, girls in school, religious freedom, and men weren't allowed to throw acid on their wives faces, you know, a living hell for conservative religious fanatics.
These responses for a background check? Give me a break. It's extremely easy to purchase a gun and all you have to do is fill out additional paperwork, and you paint it as taking away your rights? These are the same arguments that played out in Australia.