(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.
Astronaut Mark Kelly "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 or gun owners.
I really want to see reports of how many cops and people die and get shot with their guns right by them or within reach. I would bet my left arm those number are much more substantial than those who defend their home with it or an attacker. Id also be willing to bet other means of security thwart criminals like a big barking dog and alarms more than the thought of ' ooooohh they might have a gun in there'
it was voted down because of politacal reasons.......all that voted no should be voted out of office, the polls say ...."we the people" wanted the vote to pass, so its time for " we the people " to act at the next election,
@DMG2FUN aka lost cause. Please don't be so foolishly presumptuous.
I support the 2nd Amendment, along with reasonable gun safety checks to help keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals, which the cowardly senators voted against.
Vote it out 2014
They need to remember these fools on election day and remove them from office...
They turn there backs on 90% of the people wanting background checks, the people will turn on them...
What goes around comes around...YOUR FIRED!!
Common sense prevailed, unneeded and useless legislation was voted out. When will Liberals learn that their ideas are flawed? Now they just look like a bunch of spoled kids wanting a lollipop.
People like you are the destruction of the planet. Common sense is to rid the world of the weapon plague that has been among us.
keep mass producing guns and bombs and the wrong people will continue to have them. Pretty simple.
Some of these people still using props and deaths on background cks.The people of Conn,got the laws they wanted,so stop showboating and acting like some great saviour,over nothing more than grandstanding and a bunch of bull
Why can't there be a law to slam ANY felon who has a gun ... like 10 years automatically!! and 20 years if committing a crime while in possession of a weapon. IF ... they stop putting people in prison for pot and they should have room in the prisons.
-Peoples State of Illinois
Setting aside the fact that creating a national gun registry was expressly prohibited in the senate bill, can someone tell me why a registry would be required for universal background checks if it is not necessary the significant percentage of gun sales that go through a background check today?
I would suggest you read the bill, specifically section 122, which would create a defacto gun registry, despite the portion that "prohibits the formation of a national gun registry."
Section 122? Was that the only portion of the bill you read? Sounds like you just followed the trail of intellectual breadcrumbs the NRA left for you to follow, because the bill expressly forbids a national registry, yet you interpret Section 122 as setting up a registry: explain how the wording could be interpreted that way.
An article on the NRA convention that is 25% about the NRA, and 75% about the various lobbies opposed to gun freedom.
Mark Giffords is a paid anti-freedom lobbiest at this point. He no longer has anything valid to say as an individual since he is now paid for that agenda.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns is only focused on making legal guns illegal (meaning they are for illegalizing guns, not eliminating illegal guns). Bllomberg's big corporate money makes that organization happen.
The slant these article get is perverse.
Fbi statics released in 2008 say it all the violent crime rate has gone down in the past ten years due to higher gun ownership. it is illegal for a mexican citizen to own a firearm but mexico has the worlds highest crime rate. europe has a much higher violent crime rate than the united states and they've taken the guns. hey cnn why don't you report instances where legally owned firearms to stop crime i guess That's not your agenda
MaryM if you poll people in NYC about the senator of Texas then yes his approval rating is crappie. This is how these polls work and how the government lies to you about what support they have to get laws passed that otherwise would not even be considered. And its not just about guns, they use these same polls to lie to you for everything.
I have no problem with the 2nd Amendment or gun-ownership! I DO NOT understand however, the paranoia about background checks! Also, why would ANBODY need an automatic weapon for self-defense, let alone hunting?
criminals commit crimes laws do't stop criminal all firearm laws do is make it harder for law abiding citizens to defend themselves
I'm not disappointed at all with the Senate vote. I find it disingenuous to claim that Republicans voted against the bill for political purposes when the whole circus was just a plan to use the inevitable House rejection to fill political ads to turn the House back to a Democrat majority for 2 more years of rubber stamped "pass it so you can find out what is in it" Whitehouse backed wish-listing and unfettered spending. How about we work on something the House will pass... Jobs .. Remember?
Makes sense that the NRA would have Palin and Beck speaking. That's their idea of intelligence–clearly the best they can do.
Kelly should heed his own words about "doing the right thing" Society can't solve drunk driving issues by banning cars but with any act of violence,some people deflect to guns.
Sales through Federal Firearms Dealers are tracked on paper forms stored by the dealer. The dealer calls the BATF to check to see if the buyer is prohibited from purchasing a firearm. If a dealer closes, the records are maintained in paper form by the BATF. That is what happens already. What is at issue is the private transfer of ownership between individuals. Most of those transactions are between people who know more about each other than will ever show up in a background check.
Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People. The Sun Rises in the West & Sets In the East. If you repeat both of these 100 times each day, they become TRUTH in your own little world.
Gee scott – so are you saying you drive without a license these days – and that your car doesn't have to pass inspection or have insurance? Huh? Why don't we just allow anyone who wants to fly an airplane - to get one and fly. Planes don't kill people - people kill people.
What bothers me is that the President announced in Charlotte at the DNC that renewing an assault weapons ban would be something he would do in his 2nd term. Then the tragedy in Newtown is used by congress and several states to push a political agenda. How about dead bolts on class doors? How about resource officers with TASERS? How about locking down a hallway while evacuating the students? Nothing was done in response to Newtown because it was used as a political stunt.
Seriously CNN, you can stop with the 24/7 gun coverage. Your agenda is showing loud and clear.
The Senate passed the bill 54-46. Minority rule is tyranny. TEA/GOP are the real tyrants in America. Flush the TEA pot.