(CNN) - The National Rifle Association's annual meeting will surely be in the spotlight this weekend, as it comes just weeks after the Senate voted down a controversial gun control measure–a major blow to the months-long push for tougher firearm laws in the wake of the Newtown elementary school massacre.
As thousands meet in Houston for the NRA gathering, anti-gun control advocates are poised to celebrate their victory over the legislation's recent defeat in Congress, while those fighting for tougher gun laws could target the event as a way to shed light on their cause.
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Retired astronaut Mark Kelly–gun control advocate and husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords–addressed the group in advance of the conference Wednesday. He penned an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle, welcoming NRA members to the city but cautioning them against their group's leadership.
"The NRA used to be a great organization, and you can still get practical value out of it as a member – everything from insurance to gun safety courses," he wrote. "But those services are small potatoes compared to where the NRA's leadership makes the really big money. The NRA leadership's top priority is to make sure the corporations that make guns and ammunition continue to turn huge profits. Their top priority isn't you, the NRA member."
He pointed to the NRA's big fundraising months in the past year–both of which came after the shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut. He singled out Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and gun manufacturers, saying they "exploit people's fears" in return for a more profitable gun industry.
LaPierre also wrote an op-ed for the Chronicle last week, thanking NRA members for their commitment to the organization.
"If you're an NRA member, you deserve to be proud," he wrote, adding the group's followers were "doing the thankless and heroic work of standing up for freedom. And it's NRA members who are demanding proven solutions – instead of empty soundbites and slogans – that will make Americans safer."
Kelly and Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, have been vocal advocates in Washington for tougher gun laws following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
In an April 17 vote, the Senate voted against moving forward with a bipartisan compromise that would expand the background check system to cover private sales at gun shows and online. A ban on assault weapons also went down in defeat.
Opponents of the legislation argued it would infringe on Second Amendment rights, and the background check law would not have prevented a tragedy like the one in Newtown. The shooter, Adam Lanza, didn't get a background check for those weapons; they were legally purchased and registered to his mother, Nancy Lanza, who was his first victim.
James Holmes and Jared Loughner, the shooters in Aurora and Tucson, respectively, also passed background checks when they purchased guns.
Regardless, Erica Lafferty, daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, still wants Washington to take action. She's traveling to Houston to try to reach out to NRA members and share her viewpoint.
"I just want to make my mom human to them instead of just another name on a list of people who were murdered. She was a person. She was a great person. They need to know that," she said on CNN's "Starting Point."
Asked if she was nervous about heading to a convention led by people who passionately disagree with her views on gun laws, Lafferty said "No."
"I mean, they are people too, and I am trusting that they are going to be respectful as I am," she said.
Earlier this week, Lafferty confronted Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire at a town hall, asking "why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't as important" as inconveniencing gun sellers.
Ayotte was one of the 41 Republicans who voted against the background check measure.
Lafferty was sent to Ayotte's event by the organization 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.
That group 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.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday indicated 71% of voters were either dissatisfied or angry that the Senate voted down the background check measure, which had wide public support heading into the vote. While 17% want President Barack Obama to continue pursuing background check legislation, 30% want him to move on to other issues. Fifty-one percent want him to do both.
Whether or not Lafferty will get much access to NRA members is unclear. The convention certainly has a tightly-packed schedule with multiple events and seminars taking place across the three-day event.
On this year's docket are classes on handgun retention, defensive shooting, competition shooting tips, firearm law, and wild game cooking. The schedule also includes concerts, a rally with Glenn Beck, a prayer breakfast and an antique guns show.
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.
LaPierre will be among the most closely-watched speakers Saturday. As the face of the organization, LaPierre is viewed as both a reviled and heralded figure in the gun lobby, depending on who you talk to.
One elephant in the room: Will he address recent controversial comments made by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey? The senator from Pennsylvania told a local newspaper this week that Republicans voted against the background check bill to prevent the president from winning a legislative victory.
"In the end, it didn't pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it," Toomey said.
His comments seemed to suggest that many in the GOP actually favored an expanded background check system but voted against it for political purposes.
"The toughest thing to do in politics is to do the right thing when your supporters think the right thing is something else," he added.
If not LaPierre, perhaps other speakers may attempt to knock down Toomey's argument. Several potential contenders for the 2016 GOP nomination will take the stage, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin will also speak Friday. The former Alaska governor is well known for her love of hunting and the outdoors. Delivering a rousing speech at a major conservative gathering in March, Palin shared an anecdote about her husband buying her a rifle rack for Christmas, while she bought him a gun.
"This go-around, he's got the rifle, I've got the rack," she joked.
Also on the schedule this weekend will be the installment of the group's new president. As part of its formal rotation, Alabama attorney Jim Porter will take the top spot beginning Monday, replacing current President David Keene, whose two-year term concludes at this weekend's gathering.
Porter has been serving as the NRA's first vice president, and before that he served as the group's second vice president. The presidency, an unpaid position, is the next stop in the NRA's leadership rotation.
– CNN's Todd Sperry, Kevin Liptak and Joe Johns contributed to this report.
Nation needs gun-ban laws.
aahh the gun culture in America is on and well, a terrorist must have think he has died and went to terrorist heaven, look they can get gun without the FBI knowing, or tracking them on line with NO QUESTION ASK, what a wonderful terrorist dream world they're in, that the repubs made possible aahhhh. i wonder if these repubs will have the gall to somehow blame Obama if a ghiadis figures out that assault weapons are more accessible, and sometimes more potent than a homemade bomb in a crowded mall, big event, or even on your friends, family, etc. they preach about their 2nd amendment rights as if someone was trying to take it away from them, lesson folks power without guidance will leave you powerless.
Don't like how your Senator voted on the gun control bill?
Vote him out.
What else should we do with representatives that ignore common sense, the law enforcement community and 80 per cent of their constituents?
As for the NRA, the sign on that T-shirt says it all: "Don't dial 911 (use your gun)."
We'll use our vote instead.
Vote the rascals out.
I suppose the only one exploiting these tradgedies is Wayne LaPierre and not the gun control lobby. We choose LaPierre because he defends our rights against unreasonable and useless government regulation of the law abiding. We, the NRA members put on thousands of gun safety training sessions per year making our sport safer than Pop Warner Football but that does not stop the Democrat Demigogues and their henchmen from misusing tradgedy for their own advantage. Obama needs this kind of highly charged political debate to obscure talk about his failed presidency. More government has never produced more security just less freedom. We love you Wayne keep up the good work unlike our opposition we have great leaders.
now I understand the 5 year old shooting the 2 year old story and why they parents didnt seem upset in the vid clip good job media and cnn for getting ur sheep together
Wayne la Pierre for potus
The NRA and its membership are coddling murderers and terrorists.
It was NOT a victory for the NRA, it was an affirmation of the Bill of Rights by the American voters who contacted their Senators to let the know their positions.
Had the Senate passed any of those idiotic amendments, they would have died in the House and every single news outlet in the U.S. knew that. The Senate knew that too, but they went ahead and wasted their time and our money.
If the citizens of this country truly want the level of gun control that Obama, Biden, Fienstein, Schumer and Durbin claim the people want, the path is clear ... the first thing needed is for them to repeal the Second Amendment.
Until they accomplish that, all this is just talk, talk, talk.
Correction: there is nothing 'controversial' about reasonable background checks, especially when the overwhelming majority of Americans and responsible gun owners support it.
Yeah, Sarah, a rack is all you've got.
I'm kind of amazed that these people think it's safe to gather together in large numbers, considering the fear that's constantly pushed by Limbaugh and Fox News.
I hope no one is shot at this event as in "5 people shot at three different gun shows...on Gun Appreciation Day". Good Luck!
The NRA did not win anything when the majority of Americans want expanded background checks. NRA meeting in Houston this week. Featured GOP speakers are Palin, Santorum, Jindal, Cruz, Hannity and of course Glen Beck and ted nugent. Everyone bring your guns and you can have your private sales to criminals without background checks
I wonder if they will talk about the man who shot himself at the NRA NASCAR event? In states like Wyoming, the leading cause of suicide is by gun, but, in order to address that public health issue, people need to look at the need to take away a gun from someone with mental illness. Conservatives refuse to appropriate the funds needed for mental health programs, either on teh federal or state level. Their professed concern for mental health in this country is yet anothe smokescreen, like they were on background checks. As long as the profits pile up and the donations come in, the NRA will do and say whatever it needs to in order to keep its bloated, expensive propaganda machine going.
Too bad LIBS, the only ones getting voted out are the idiotic gun banners.
Overthrow all congress and senate idiots that support NRA thugs in 2014. Only way out in DEMOCRACY.
I guess libs will have to go back and plan another school massacre..one that's worst...because the Newtown one wasn't successful in passing their gun grabbing agenda. They will find some young kid, pump him full of psyco drugs and then turn him lose with the exact guns they hope to ban. Good luck with those schemes, I think the American people have wised up to the old tricks.
By the way, these school shootings were predicted long ago in books authored by a conservative who explained the methods the dems and govt would use to go after guns....Is it a conspiracy?....Yes, nothing short of one is going to get American's guns....
Too bad LIBS, the only ones getting voted out are the idiotic gun banners.
Ayotte, Flake, Murkowski and Begich have all sees a significant drop in their support since the vote. They are on their way out.
2014!!! NRA think they had a "major" victory now, in 2014 the American People will have their victory. People should keep the pressure on their senator to do the right thing, just ask the senators that are seeing their pool number's drop.
While all the guns nuts are in Texas, can went forbid them from crossing back over the border to the US? Then tell Texas they are free to form their own country. A win-win situation.
Truth Be Told = exactly the type of person that should not be allowed to own a gun.
NRA has 5 million members out of 100+ million gun owners, I would have to say their batting average isnt to good. I also would guess that the gun owners that are not members are the ones that are the law abiding citizens that are truly gun lovers. The 5 million members are the nut jobs, Ted Nugent for example.
I understand they'll be introducing a new series of bullets at the convention. These are built to offer a controlled perfect amount of expansion and penetration as to not pass through smaller bodies without doing maximum damage.
Don't like how your Senator voted on sensible background checks?
YOU have the power to teach him or her that it is the PEOPLE of this country who have the final say on how this country is run. WE THE PEOPLE, with our VOTES have more power than the NRA.
VOTE them out of office. Use your VOTE to make your wishes heard. The gun nuts do it all the time. It's time for the rest of us – the silent MAJORITY of Americans – to speak up and make ourselves heard.
I love how they use one poll that favors them. Pew research just released a poll that only says 47% are angry or disappointed. Funny how cnn likes to use left slanted stuff. I am glad they shot down the dangerous laws that violate the constitution.