May 3rd, 2013
02:57 PM ET
7 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 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. T Dog

    Utah and Chicago have about the same population – 2.7 million. Chicago has very strict gun control laws – almost prohibitive while Utah is very loose, in fact it's an "open carry" state. Yet, Chicago has ten times (over 500 vs. about 50) more gun homicides than Utah. This certainly seems to discredit the idea that gun laws will reduce gun violence.

    May 3, 2013 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  2. Tom Pryor

    Wait...who's making the money here? Gun dealers. That's who's "taking advantage of the tragedy to take an opportunity" to make money.

    May 3, 2013 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  3. Most of America

    And 70% of Americans were disgusted by the knee jerk, trying to get votes for 2016, pathetic reaction of the democrats after the tragedy. How about parent accountability?? It doesn't "take a village" it takes "responsible parents"!!!

    May 3, 2013 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  4. Paul

    Enforce what you've got then see if you need more.

    May 3, 2013 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  5. Hem

    There's a problem when it's a lot easier to get a gun as opposed to getting a driver's license. It's even harder to buy a car with all of the paperwork you have to fill out.

    May 3, 2013 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  6. John

    Thank you liberal media,

    Because you are complicate with wanting to take away the freedom of man, I have become a proud gun owner, i have my concealed carry and i now own 4 guns. You have made me a proud defender of freedom and I have a new passion.

    Arm up American, Statist/protectionist will only continue to chip away on the freedom on man.

    May 3, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  7. Grant

    The gov't knows full well that restrictions on guns will not deter crime but, make it worse where there are no guns allowed and this is why anyone can see right through to their agenda(s).

    May 3, 2013 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  8. longtooth

    I'm an Obama voter and supporter from Boston. What may surprise many of the emotional advocates on both sides of the argument is that I own guns and am a strong supporter of gun rights. I've written Obama's campaign to say they should make crystal clear that they will never advocate the repeal of the second amendment. Also, they should realize that the abominations at Sandy Hook and Aurora would have happened even if their proposed laws were in effect. Let's all be honest with each other.

    May 3, 2013 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  9. NotYoDaddy

    Ask yourself: Is there any legislation before Congress that would have in any way prevented Sandyhook?

    May 3, 2013 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  10. Antique-republican

    Haha...don't want to say "all Americanns" so......republicans and their immoral kind are the the laugh of the world. Did you ever stop to think that the second amendment may just be wrong for a nation of people who choose peace ? The amendment may be plain wrong and need to be erased

    May 3, 2013 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  11. Larry L

    @Anonymous

    Despite what's being reported the vast majority of gun sales at gun shows are from dealers who are required to do background checks. The other is the individual sales who still rent a booth and mostly sell rare expensive or antique firearms.
    =================
    I have sold dozens of guns to other individuals at gun shows in Texas w/o anybody doing anything except exchanging money for guns. I have also put ads in the paper and sold to individuals w/o an FFL transfer. These things are legal in Texas and represent a big chunk of how guns are exchanged here. Telling the truth works both ways...

    May 3, 2013 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  12. Jim

    Isn't that a pic of Gabbie Giffords? Cool! She was at the NRA Convention! Now that's progress!

    May 3, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  13. No Party Patriot

    The NRA is playing people like a flute. I used to be a member (for many years). After a while I got sick of all the political mail outs. I used keep them to start my fireplace in the winter. Now a days the NRA is just about politics, not gun owners.or shooting sports, just money. The average gun owner and the shooting victims are equal pawns in the right vs left battle. Sad state of affairs.

    May 3, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  14. randyb12

    I love guns, but hate the NRA...it is controlled by the industry now. We needed those background checks you fools.

    May 3, 2013 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  15. Raul

    America....home of the ignorant. Really sad that we've dropped so far? Best country to live in? Not with all these murders. Why are we so violent? Why do we love guns? Why are red states so idiotic?

    May 3, 2013 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  16. Michael

    Sarah Palin. NRA. Not my cups of tea. (multiple gun owner with CCL)

    May 3, 2013 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  17. here and back again

    The difference is that we see a loss of life that may have been prevented. How you ask? Obviously the background checks presently in place are not adequate. So instead of pretending they are working, we admit they aren't working and seek to improve them. No one. Not one single person is trying to limit a sane person's right to own a weapon. We are trying to reduce the likelihood that an insane person can have equal access to the weapon. This is a no-brainer...except for the NRA members.

    May 3, 2013 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  18. OrmondGeorge

    NRA = Not Really American.

    TOO MANY of our elected officials have decided that what we, the electorate want is not important to them.
    The NRA, by "Campaign Contributions," has manipulated the system so that Congress no longer reflects or adheres to the will of the People. The NRA has subverted the political process to serve THEIR owners – Corporate Gum Manufacturers and sellers.

    With the freedom of speech, lies or not, there is little we can do to stop the NRA. That leaves Congress. We MUST vote FOR the safety and reason of ABSOLUTE Universal Background Checks.

    May 3, 2013 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  19. Kaz

    Let me take a wild guess. I bet NRA cares more about our freedom than their gun making industry members. Right? Follow the money, you will find the real truth. I do not need AK-47 to protect my family, I am willing to give up my info when I buy a hand gun. If you are a law abiding citizen, why you are so afraid to be tracked. When you get a loan, you give your info to the lender. When you buy a gun, you do not want to give any info to anyone. What logic is that?

    May 3, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  20. scott bleyle

    It's always tragic when folks die way too young,for any reason.I vote and I'm the N.R.A.

    May 3, 2013 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  21. mindstorms

    It is my belief that this country would be better off with a well educated electorate rather than one with an assault weapon in every house. Get involved in the political process because that's what democracy is all about. The number of guns does not necessarily make a free society. If you think you have to be armed to be safe from your government than why even bother having elections? You don't create a democratic society out of the barrel of a gun.

    May 3, 2013 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  22. g

    i think the people that started the usa civil war were law bidding citizens too.

    May 3, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  23. sally-ann

    NRA lies, people die, the NRA profits.

    May 3, 2013 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  24. Frank

    Education IS free but you and your kind don't seem to have taken advantage of our public education system.
    I rather be a liberal pinko (thank you) than a backwoods brainless redneck.
    ---–
    Education is not free. It is paid for and subsidized by the American taxpayer.

    May 3, 2013 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  25. PuzzledInPeoria

    First, gun laws don't stop criminals. That's why they're called criminals.

    Second, putting an armed guard in every school is not an option. My school district just closed a school and is laying off teachers because it has no money. Try again, NRA.

    May 3, 2013 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
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