(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.
Dear Peoples State of Illinois. I thank you for your service. Having served in the Military does not give you a monopoly on wisdom. I've got 59 years on this Earth too. I do HATE the fact that so many Macho Gun Nuts can turn a blind eye to guys like Bush, Cheney or Mittens who skipped Vietnam & let some other less connected kid go in their place, like my wife's first husband of Jasper, TX & never came back. It's hypocrisy that needs calling out. Especially when these kind of guys clamor for War as the answer to all Foreign Policy Issues.
...and voters across the nation are gearing up for 2014 to kick the NRA out of our government. Bring. It. On.
i always laugh at those who arent in the NRA, dont serve on their boards who act like they know the inner secrets of the NRA. Hey gun grabbers, the NRA DOES represent me, an average member, against the liberal agenda of gun grabbing. i look forward to a great weekend, enjoying my freedoms.
Marita, it's the same logic that prompts Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby to oppose "common sense" restrictions such as parental notification laws - the fear that they will lead to broader restrictions.
Evil people who do not care when children are murdered.
The Republicans in this nation have caused Terrorism, Global Warming and Mass Murder (37 per day) with their policies about war in the Middle East, stifling all alternative energy sources and the NRA.
Congratulations America. Every time you see little boys and girls murdered, pat yourselves on the back.
Harsh ... but I'm afraid it is all true. Hope you are proud of all that money you are making as a result.
Hey ATL, Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby coddles baby killers like Vernon Gosnell
I wonder how all the liberals would react if they found out the NRA was getting more than $350 million in taxpayer money each like Planned Parenthood
The NRA was and is a great organization due to it's leadership following the lead of it's membership. The NRA has changed over the years since the NRA members have changed over the years. The old generation of members who were submissive to the government is dead, and the new generation will not bend in their defense of their constitutional rights which are under attack today like never before.
The courageous senators who voted against the phony "gun control" legislation should be commended for following the will of their constituents who overwhelmingly did not support it. Even left leaning outlets like NPR reported support for the proposed "gun control" was 43% and falling. That minor fact prompted the rabid anti-gun minority to fabricate a poll claiming 90% or the 330,000,000 US population supported the "gun control" based on a poll of barely 1,000 carefully selected persons. Anyone who didn't flunk out of high school knows such a poll is pure nonsense, but that didn't stop the rabid anti-gun minority from trying to use it to attack the majority.
There was no compelling reason to enact intrusive, costly and ineffective federal gun-control legislation, and the Senate correctly voted it down. Enforce the existing laws, allow the states to be responsible for their own safety measures, and stop driving up federal spending.
"Evil people who do not care when children are murdered"
I think that applies to all the media which refuse to cover the trial of abortionist Vernon Gosnell
Astronaut Kelly – seems the cosmic radiation got to him – he seems to think NRA members have the same affliction. How do you account for an ever increasing membership and renewals from existing members if they disagree with the member elected board!! Fact is the membership and millions more who support the NRA AGREE WITH THEIR STAND and the extra from the gun manufacturers – well we appreciate their support.
Where does "gun grabbing" nonsense come from? The legislation that was voted down did not confiscate a single gun. Personally I'm really angry that MY patriotism is being impugned because I don't want to risk my life going to the movies.
Lets' hear all the lies about the NRA again, like how they want all little kids to have guns, don't care about innocent people, are all red-necks, they strangle puppies, etc. If you're going to condemn a faceless abstract entity as the root of all evil, at least get your facts straight. Frigging anti-gun shrieks. It's YOU who display the lunacy that you claim the NRA represents.
The list of speakers at this convention is a grand collection of losers. They are a detriment to this country. At the bottom of that list s Nugent. They try to convince people that the guv-ment is comin' to git yer guns. That isn't going to happen.
Will they allow guns at the meeting?
CNN owes the millions of Americans who want less crime an apology for NOT identifying the position and history of the NRA and its long fight against crime in support of police and private citizens. Pretending that those who fight to enable violent criminals are heroes is sad.
You gotta love Ted Cruz. First he humiliates Diane Feiinstein, and now he wants to run for president. Too bad he's a foreigner, born in Canada. Do you think Donald Trump will vet him?!
The NRA is going down in 2014 and very much so, in 2016.
NRA big week end.. YEEEHAWWW, a lot shooting, drinking, cussing.
Liberals. So quick to start calling everyone without their same opinions evil. Yes i am a gun owner and yes i care about others, yes even people i dont know. So there, i just proved 100% of liberals wrong on how gun rights people are.
follow the money, it's always about the money. NRA is a front organization for gun industry and funded by suckers arming for zombies and/or government "take over". Their puppets in Washington will do anything for money, including building more coffins for firearms related deaths.
I got the ACLU for the 1st
and I got the NRA for the 2nd
Member of both
some people have cats , I have a 9mm so what???
why do people write about stuff they don't know about?
I don't write about cats..... there is an 'move on' or forward or what ever it is today and there is an NRA..
what about tolerance inclusion and diversity... are gun owners to diverse????
Woot! Long live the NRA! NRA stands for freedom!