(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.
Yea – why don't you just let it go away. Probably won't have another child killed – or runner – or Congresswoman shot for at least another hour or so. What's the big deal? Whoops – actually that's not true since 3 people are killed every hour in the US by guns. Well, probably not your kind of people anyway.
Congratulations to the NRA members on their recent legislative victory. You have preserved the rights of convicted criminals and the mentally ill to continue to get guns from private dealers at gun shows with a minimum of inconvenience.
MaryM if you poll people in NYC about the senator of Texas then yes his approval rating is crappie.
Nope, the poll numbers on the senators that voted against the expanded background checks bill are from their Constituents In their states. And they are dropping
"reasonable gun safety checks to help keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals,"
The leftist aka progressive socialist gun haters always spew this BS too infringe on a right. Why not keep the mentally ill and criminals off of the streets of America. There would be no need for gun control.
as a democrat – turned Independent, I strongly believe in the 2nd amendment – but the "background check" that was voted down, just absolutely amazes me. I mean, nobody is going to take away people's guns, & all the other B.S. you hear about. LOL – I also believe that there should be much stronger penalty's – for people that uses guns for killing people – Case in point : the little girl that attended Obama's inauguration – the boy that shot & killed her – had a laundry list of gun offenses – I mean, this boy should have got life or something, but our justice & court system in this country lets them out, I mean, they get 6 months or a year or whatever, and then they commit the same type of crime. That's the real trouble : people who robs banks, and/or kills people, and all of the evidence points towards them, they should get Life, to keep them off the streets. But what the heck is My Opinion anyway ? It will probably never happen anyway.
When fascism comes (came) to America, it will be draped in a stars and stripes rugby shirt and wearing a silver crucifix.
All of the anger and frustration gun grabbers display will not succeed in Infringing on our second amendment rights. This is one of those situations where you're just going to have to face up to the fact, that it's not going your way. SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED. And for heavens sake, quit your whining!
America won Obama lost about time.
America is doing better in spite of Obama the rich are getting richer and he has made everyone else POORER.
World markets soar as monthly report blows past estimates, with 165,000 jobs added and a jobless rate of 7.5%
Now imagine 7.5 % after 8 trillion spent 17 trillion debt and when he took office the unemployment rate was 7.5 % So he has accomplished NOTHING AT ALL!
A recent poll shows that 90% of the people that "are in favor of" background checks are not aware that the US has required mandatory background checks for firearm transfers from licensed dealers since 1998.
Another poll shows that 99% of the first group did not realize that the legislation that would have added transfers between private individuals to the background check requirement would not have been enforceable and would have had to rely on the honor system.
And yet another poll showed that 99% of the first group didn't care that there were no changes in reporting the mentally ill in the legislation. They just wanted *something* passed however useless and unenforcable.
So there you have it – whether or not the recent failed legislation that changed the background check requirement had passed, the dangerously mentally ill would still pass a background check provided their criminal record is clean.
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.
Funny you should mention abortions. By opposing a national gun registry on the grounds that it invades an individual's right to privacy, the NRA is indirectly supporting abortion rights, since Roe v. Wade was decided on the grounds that ani-abortion legislation invaded a woman's right to privacy.
Can you provide an accurate definition of "socialist" without using cut and paste? Thought not.
"NRA gears up for big weekend"
Some stocking up for their next big elementary school massacre, no less?
What will it take for Mark Kelly to just GO AWAY!
This would be like biggest convention of selfish people on earth.
Funny how a gun is the only device that is targeted. Kill someone with a car and it's the driver. Kill someone with a knife and it's the person who used it. Shoot someone and it's the guns fault. A gun is a lifeless device that has no will of it's own. Why don't you go after the shooters and not the legal owners?
This was not a very "controversial" oitem of gun control, as asserted in the beginning of the article. 86-93% of all Americans were in favor of it. That is not controversial, and it was not much gun control, since in-store sales are already covered for the same process. Only idiots would be alarmed that "they are taking my guns away" and the Senate should be ashamed of itself.
True patriots? These are not the faces of liberty. They are the faces of paranoia, and knee jerk reactions.
Why is the NRA telling the American people that the government will take away their guns. That is a lie and they know it Why would anyone believe the NRA. They represent the gun manufacturers that want to sell more guns. That is why they are against the expanded background checks bill.
Bravo! I have said this all along. Empty our prisons of drug addicts (not dealers) and other petty non-violent offenders and load up the prisons with violent criminals and levy extremely harsh penalties for perpetrating a crime with a gun. Additionally, have mandatory sentencing for felons with guns or caught by a background check. I'm not big on mandatory sentencing, but I would support them for these crimes. If our politicians would get serious about gun crime then I would support expanded background checks. Otherwise, I don't take them seriously to follow through on worthwhile background checks when they don't enforce current laws or get tough on criminals.
I guess I'll stay home this wknd – there is estimated reports that there will be 6.5 million people downtown – the N.R.A. isn't the only event that is happening – I mean, there's cinco de mayo events all over town & with everything else going on – there isn't going to be enough parking available anyway – There's going to be a $30 charge Just to park, in lots of places. LOL
Dear Mr. Mark Kelly....until you can wipe this sh$t eating grin off of Gabby's face as she holds an AR-15 at a gun range, standing next to a Tuscon SWAT Team Member, you can keep your feckin' comments to yourself.
i notice the NRA states that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown massacre and they may be right. That is an unprovable statement. What they have done with that statement is make the entire gun control movement about a single shooting. They avoid all the other gun related deaths becuase if they bring all gun violence to the converstation the NRA would sound like a bunch a fools. Touger gun laws won't destroy the 2nd amendment but it may prevent some of the many many many deaths and injuries that occur because gun laws are way to lax.
In a classroom, teachers have choices as to how to proceed. They can present material in a way that is challenging for most students, and somewhat difficult for some students, and work with those students to improve. They could, alternatively, dumb down the material so that no single child has any problems. In essence, their actions are centered around the limitations of the class, and not the opportunities.
Gun control is very much like this situation. As a society (especially from the liberal perspective), our "choice" seems to be to take the easiest solution rather than the right solution, and to do something....ANYTHING...to assuage our pain when bad things happen. The problem is that sooner or later you run out of things to ban, things to avoid, and you've tried so hard to please everyone that you end up pleasing no one.
The 90% statistic that is bandied about so much is from ONE poll, and other polls are lower, but you don't hear about them. The "40% of all guns are bought without background checks" is the same thing...it's a bogus number. The actual number (based on several different studies) is around 15-18%, but of course you won't hear that from the gun control bots.
You liberals continue to feel wonderful about how these Senators are going to "face the music" in 2014. If I were you, however, I'd be VERY VERY concerned about how YOU are going to fare as Obamacare continues to be an unprecedented train wreck. Unless you are NOT paying attention (and many of you are not), there is now story after story about the hidden costs coming out...and at some point even the mainstream media will be unable to hide it any longer.
Don't believe me? No problem. But take a look at what you're paying for health care right now, and compare that to two years ago. And in January of 2014, look at it again. Republicans WILL keep the House AND take back the Senate based on this issue.
I don't understand how liberals can stand on the highest hill tops and show little children who were killed by crazy's but love and support President Obama. Obama wants Medicaid to pay directly for elective abortions, and Obamacare will allow beneficiaries to use federal subsidies to purchase health care plans that cover elective abortions. That is tax payer funded murder.