May 3rd, 2013
02:57 PM ET
12 months 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 deadly 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 proposal an 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. name

    "Make an opportunity out of the most vile tragedies that can be committed." – NRA motto

    May 3, 2013 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  2. wade

    every real piece of real evidence proves gun control does not work. Chicago is the gun murder capital of America and it has strict gun control, liberals do not want the 2nd amendment because they want the GOV to control everything and the people to never have the ability to defend themselves against the terrany that Jefferson warned about. They do not want woman to have the right to protect themselves against rape or abuse. They want to be like China.

    May 3, 2013 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  3. Jeb

    92% of Americans are for background checks on all gun purchases.

    Gun manufacturers and the GOP are against it.

    Guess who the GOP works for?

    Hint: It's not the American people.

    May 3, 2013 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  4. duke

    Nothing in the defeated guns bill would've prevented the tragedy at Newtown.

    May 3, 2013 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  5. dc7drvr

    The 24 Million in California is not for a buy-back. It is to fund law enforcement to go out and get guns from those who own firearms legally purchased and are no longer qualified to buy a gun.

    May 3, 2013 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  6. Chiz Dippler

    Do these buffoons do anything other salivate over guns? Isn't there more to freedom than how many guns you can get your disgusting paws on? These people are as narrow minded as they come.

    May 3, 2013 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  7. No support

    That headline should read, "We see tragedy as opportunity while they see it as a reason to fix a problem." It is widely known that every time one of these tragedies happen, the NRA lifts its ugly head and declares that all guns are now going to be outlawed, and then watch gun and ammunition sales soar. They use fear to drive sales... so they do it for the money while us liberals seek to fix a problem.

    May 3, 2013 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  8. jumper48

    Remember when the NRA used to be about the shooting experience, gun safety, education, hunting and camaraderie? Now it seems more like a lobby group, a loud anti-government group similar to the tobacco industry in the 1980s and 90s.

    What makes it worse is that extreme Liberals turn every single horrible shooting situation (Tucson, Sandy Hook, Aurora) in to a rally cry in an attempt to limit/ban firearms without realizing that criminals are going to get weapons illegally if they want them. The only people affected by gun bans are the honest people buying weapons legally.

    On the flip side, extreme Conservatives are responding to Liberals by calling any law changes as Communist or Fascist, I hear those words so often they have no meaning any more and I do not think that the people that say them actually have any understanding of the words definition in this context. It is like a learned response from the figure heads above.

    Instead of politicians looking for camera time and blaming each other how about they work on controlling the criminals instead of the guns?

    May 3, 2013 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  9. scranton

    I am disgusted by Obama and the democrats using the families of the victims as backdrops and props for their gun grabbing agendas.

    May 3, 2013 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  10. James

    Jaime – The point is that criminals get their guns on the Black market and the Black Market will never conduct background checks. Can't you just see the local drug dealer telling Joe User he has to run a background check on him before he can sell him 5 rocks of crack for that pistol he stole the night before. So Universal Background Checks are a smoke screen to make you believe that your elected officials are "doing something" while those with an agenda use it to further erode the rights of Americans.

    May 3, 2013 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  11. Matt

    Make no mistake here. This is ALL about money. It's a sad day when society puts a price tag on our children's lives.

    May 3, 2013 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  12. gsgofer

    @ Mr. Rush! Maybe you should look up the definition of Facist before you throw it out there. After all, you are fighting for their right to arm the nut cases and felons.

    May 3, 2013 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  13. Rob V

    I'm a gun owner and a hunter and the NRA does NOT speak for me.

    May 3, 2013 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  14. J Turman

    Killing people is against the law and people get murdered all the time. Prohibition does not work. Alcohol, illicit drugs, guns, murder, RAPE!!! None of these are prevented, only discouraged. Police don't prevent crime. They investigate and find the responsible party. The people are still dead, raped, drugged and armed. No protection only a false security. Gang members and other criminals have access to fully automatic weapons, the citizenry should be allowed to protect itself.

    May 3, 2013 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  15. chepa24

    I don't understand what the big deal is about getting a back ground check. If you have nothing to hide, why are you so against it?

    May 3, 2013 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  16. markiejoe

    I'm happy to read this article's list of GOP politicians who attended this NRA convention, because none of them now could ever be elected President. Nationwide they'd get killed at the ballot box. The country is not with them.

    As Gov. Perry implied, Texas is its own nation. They should secede and leave the rest of us sane states to shoulder on.

    May 3, 2013 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  17. No one

    Given gun sales go UP every mass shooting, they know they get opportunity with each one. If you're falling for such tricks, good job, you are the idiotic mass that they love to take money from.
    Guns can last a lifetime, why then do owners need more guns than they can fit in their hands, feet, mouth, and other orifices? They aren't smartphones that upgrade each year, they aren't clothes that you outgrow, they aren't food that expires. They are tools built to last longer than you will.

    May 3, 2013 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  18. Dumbo

    @Libertarian

    Print media didn't exist when they wrote the Bill of Rights either, dummy.

    May 3, 2013 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  19. Phattee

    I wonder which far-right site is equipping its members with talking points and sending them here for the sake of appearances.

    May 3, 2013 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  20. James

    Still waiting for Dumbocrats to explain how any of their defeated legislation would've stopped Sandy Hook. The answer is it wouldn't have. It was DISGUSTING to see Obama parading around people from Newtown. You won't hear another peep from the Dumbocrats on gun legislation. They tried to capitalize on the deaths of children and they lost!

    May 3, 2013 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  21. andy

    In terms of firearm industry, liberal media is their best friend. Everytime there is gun control debate, gun sales tops. I think CNN, especially that downtown abbey guy, should get commission from firearm manufactures.

    May 3, 2013 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  22. trufaldino

    NRA fans live in a fantasy world in which the proliferation of guns has nothing to do with the deaths of innocents. It really makes my blood boid to know how much more dangerous they make the streets of New York City by allowing an unlimited number of guns to be purchased in Virginia. It's equally offensive when their leader says that their opponants are just "using" the Newtown murders for political capital. What a shameless way of hiding from the gun culture they propagate and its role in those murders. What was that mentally disturbed Newtown shooter doing with access to guns? What was a 5 year old doing with a gun? The NRA folks can tell themselves over and over again, "Not my fault, Not my fault Not my fault". But a fair percentage of these deaths are their fault. The NRA folks are the latest in a strain of unapologitic villainy that runs through American history from the slave holders who held slavery as a "positive good" to the plug uglies who thought Catholics shouldn't be Americans, to the conservatives who constructed and defended Jim Crow for decades. They all had this in common: they wanted to do whatever made them feel powerful regardless of the cost to anyone else, and they would embrace any lie, no matter how obvious, to justify themselves. Their concept of liberty is their ability to inflict injury with impunity, and their contempt for government is because it holds them back. No sane person fears sensible gun control, but the NRA folks are afraid the Feds will take their guns. After all, the Feds took their slaves, didnt' they?

    May 3, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  23. jaline

    @MaryM: The money is NOT for buybacks. It's to send cops to the homes of known criminals who are in possession of guns illegally and to do the same with the mentally ill who should also not have them. Jerry Brown has been telling all of us he couldn't get the guns away from those who are known to have them illegally because of a shortage of money, and now he's been given the means to do it. I live in CA and try to stay aware of what's happening.

    May 3, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  24. Stickyicky

    (because the NRA and gun owners are against a national registry)
    @Jaime
    That's because we dont want the criminals in the government to try to take our guns, which is exactly what a national gun registry is for. OWNING A GUN IS A RIGHT NOT A PRIVILEDGE. Anyone that thinks it should be a priviledge is more than welcome to go elsewhere, the USA is the only place in the world with this freedom. You may go elsewhere and horrible crimes will still happen, i just like a piece of mind knowing i have the ability to curb such crimes if i so happen to be in the wrong place at the right time. Id also rather get shot by a bullet then hacked up or blown up. Banned or restricting gun owners from guns does not solve problems, it creates new, more destructive ways for the crazys to kill.
    You gun hating people(because they are on both sides) are just ignorant on guns, yet i guess ignorance is bliss.

    May 3, 2013 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  25. Datman

    The NRA is not for gun owners, it is a lobbyist for the gun manufacturers, wake up people. In 1999 they said they were all for background checks, why now the change of heart! They are taking advantage of you with this nonsense that the government is gonna kick in your door and take your guns away! I am a gun owner, but how can we allow any loophole that allows someone to buy a weapon that is made to take lives without checking their background. Will this stop mass shootings...no but don't we have a responsibility to do EVERYTHiNG we can to try and stop it??!! It should take more than walking into your local Walmart or going to a gun show to purchase something so dangerous!!!

    May 3, 2013 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
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