(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
"Where we see tragedy, Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg, they see opportunity," IN FACT-QUITE THE OPPOSITE. We see tragedy, the NRA sees opportunity for increased sales and profits. They have raked in mucho busks since Newtown. BLOOD MONEY-all of it !
I have owned guns for many years – because I like target shooting. One is an AR-15. I'd never hunt, and consider those who do to be largely cretins – human garbage that derives pleasure from killing. I would never join or support the NRA. Radicalism is almost always misguided and stupid. As disgusting as the NRA is, which is about as disgusting as the immoral, disloyal, generally uneducated trash that identifies with the republican party, they do actually make a few good points, and one of those is that we already have plenty of laws, but they are not properly enforced. Another is that all the laws in the world do not stop crime. As a society, we are way too tolerant of criminal behavior, including drunk driving, which kills far more people than guns do. However, a sicko organization that defends selling of teflon-coated bullets, and would probably argue for allowing the sale of RPGs, deserves nothing but disgust and scorn.
Gun control should be keeping them out of the hands of mental cases, illegal aliens and other non-American citizens, and certain felons. I would also add that keeping guns out of the hands of people on welfare rolls and living in public housing would help immensely in nearly every town and city in America, just check out Chicago.
Gun control has nothing to do with public safety, it has to do with disarming the American people. The ruling elite are
running scared because they know the people are awakaning
At the end of it all, this is not about defending the second amendment nor citizens rights nor the suffering and pain of families who have lost their loved ones due to gun violence...that is a lot of boloney! What this is about is power, greed, money, and corruption. The NRA is using the same old, yet effective, tactic of scaring the law abiding citizens. Something tells me that a lot of money will stop flowing into the pockets of the NRA and the politicians that support the NRA if the process of selling guns is more regulated.
Prohibition for alcohol was a disaster. Prohibition for guns would be a disaster.
Hard to believe the Republican party is willing to commit political suicide over this! The senators who voted against background checks and against the will of the American people are already falling in poll after poll. Many will lose their seats in their next election and they are taking the party down with them!
The board of directors of the NRA are representatives of the gun manufacturers, and their only goal is to as many guns as possible, they don't care about the thousands of lives and families destroyed. The NRA is an obscene organization that has no place in civilization.
An answer to this problem is just making people responsible for what happens with the guns they purchase. Yes, I am calling them guns not a assault rifle, not a shot gun, not an AK47, not a MD40, or a PMS65. Once the weapon is registered to the person purchasing it, it is their responsibility. If they choose to sell it illegally and someone is hurt or killed, it is on them. The NRA talks about freedom and responsibility, make the people responsible. Simple solution.
I have no problem with the 2nd amendment. If everyone walks around with THE SAME GUNS THAT WERE AVAILABLE AT THE TIME THE 2ND AMENDMENT WAS WRITTEN i am okay with that. I think if the gins today were around back then the 2nd amendment would look A LOT DIFFERENT.
Ya'll make it sound like the 2nd amendment clearly states "EVERY MAN WOMAN AND CHILD IS ALLOWED TO OWN A GUN AND ANY TYPE OF GUN THEY CHOOSE. That is NOT what it says. Did you know the Founding Fathers wrote the 2nd amendment with a capital M in the word Militia to emphasize it? The states change it to a lowercase M to give it less emphasis. Too bad the states didn't have the wisdom of our Founding Fathers.
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. I have been wanting to buy a pistol for home defense and every source I know of will only send it to a licensed dealer in my area, who can only release it to me AFTER I complete a background check. The only guns that I know of that you can buy online without jumping through the hoops is for certain antique collector guns.
i love the NRA....i am a law abiding, hard working guy that has two kids in college and pay my taxes.....and I would fight to keep my right to own a gun......and so would millions others. so if you libs want to take away my right to defend myself, you all will lose. the military would never turn on the public as most in the military believe in the right......keep your hands out of my pocket, and leave MY rights alone.
the nra does not support americans, just gun owners and the manufacturers. they are a danger to america and all of the senators and congressman that are owned by them should be voted out
Unlike oil company monopolies and fraudster banks, the NRA is powerful because many thousands of Americans are voluntary members. Bravo! Democracy at work!!
NRA – democracy at work!!
So glad I joined the NRA. I have learned so much about the history of guns and our country. I bought a gun for protection because we had just had a child and had several altercations with several violent maniacal people in the course of two weeks. After I purchased a pistol, I started training and trying to learn every law in order to be fully compliant. I immediately realized how confusing the laws are, how illogical they are, and how prohibitive they are for people simply trying to be able to protect themselves. So glad I joined the NRA
Keep up the GREAT WORK we are behind you 100 % NRA. Please tell us us when you have a Muslim repeller ready.
Nice job CNN on the Giffords photo,Thank Goodness for today's photo's because those in the past would have been wore out .
I want to see a national gun registry that gives law enforcement better tracking of firearms especially in crimes so they can see where they last were legally before ending up in a crooks hands. There's no excuse them not having this if it can help them put the pieces together better after events like Sandy Hook.
Never in the history of this country has there been a more selfish endeavor then the NRA and gun rights fanatics.
Aren't these gun toters who insist they need guns to protect themselves from the government the same ones who tell others "If you don't love it, you can leave it!"??
The "guns are good for you" message comes loud and clear from the NRA. Sadly, Rs and a few Ds sandbagged a reasonable Bill adddressing background checks, only. What we can look forward too is another horrific incident and repeating this gun policy battle all over again. Welcome to the USA!
I agree, repeal the 2nd amendment. However, I don't want folks to think that us liberals are just picking and choosing which amendments to repeal, lets continue by repealing the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th as well. We'll get the remainder later.
Just got back from the show. It was a packed house. All the latest gear and lots to see.
A pretty blonde asked me to take her picture for "a Swedish newspaper", she was all smiles till she got in front of the lens and then put on her best disgusted to be there look. It was funny, I could tell this news story was going to be fair and balanced.
Oh well, I made sure the Brownings in the background were in proper focus.