(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.
Ted, WELL-REGULATED is also in there... Seems as though you've forgotten that bit.
If we're all so upset about this minority in the Senate holding gun control and everything else hostage, then let's do something about it as voters! In 2014, send a Democratic House and Democratic Senate to Washington. Then, the Senate must break this foolish filibuster rule. Republicans have degenerated into the party of hate, bigotry, guns, and racism. If they are fully rejected and marginalized, this nation will be great and will finally move on. A vote for the GOP is a vote for obstruction and the return of oppression.
We can only hope that the GOP fails in the mid-terms and sanity starts to take hold. A question for the gun crazies out there: was that little boy who killed his sister a criminal or mentally ill and the guy who shoots his neighbor because of a noisy dog, is that man a criminal or mentally ill before he kills the neighbor. Come on people, this country needs a rational debate on the gun craziness in this country.
"A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday..." Oh, well, that speaks volumes... Quinnipiac University... impressive. [sarcasm off]
Fear works very well and it's because there is a degree of truth in what people fear. Truth-Trust No one especially our elected leaders. They would sell their mother if it meant keeping themselves in power. The power to enslave the masses to conform to their twisted ideology. Keep your gun not for the intruder but for the day of reckoning.
@ Keel Hauler
Yea but its ok for them to do that to everyone and everything else though.
We are all going to be locked in our homes with our guns because everyone fears whats around the next corner. Then you will say the goverment is controlling us when all alone you caused the nanny state arming your self and and everyone else.
Attorney General Eric Holder onced said we're a nation of "COWARDS" and you know what? He's right! We're a nation of cowards simply because we seem to have an innate urge to possess guns because we're afraid of aliens, afraid of big-foot, afraid of greezly bears, afraid of Blacks, afraid of Hispanics, afraid of Asians, afraid of our own shadow and voices and the insanity goes on and on and on. And this is the same "home of the brave" that was onced terrirified by a diminuitive woman who sat harmlessly on a bus in Montgomery Alabama in 1954 and the same society that was onced terrorified by a young Reverend from Atlanta Georgia who strived for racial justice and equality through non-violent means. Yes, we're a nation of COWARDS!
If you have a mental illness.....perhaps a serious head injury that could affect your judgement.....you should not be able to own a weapon. Appearently that doesn't apply to congress women.
@ Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer
Yes you have that right my friend.
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.
I suggest that you Google the "Hyde Amendment."
RC – The Abortion Issue and The Gun Issue are two unrelated issues that as usual you folks try to blur as one. Doesn't work, sorry. A woman who is raped and forced to have a baby is different than a lunatic intentionally seeking out a weapon to kill as many children as possible. One is a PERSONAL BODY AND HEALTH ISSUE. The other is LUNATICS ACCESSING TOOLS OF MASS MURDER. And even better, the Conservatives who refuse to teach their children about the risks of sex and live in denial are the same people who's kids are seeking abortions. And the same folks loading their homes and cars with guns.
The only bigotry and hate I see is directed towards the hundred million or so gun owners in this country who have never harmed anyone with a gun. The level of bigotry I see directed at us makes me truly ashamed for being a Democrat. While I can not ever see myself voting Republican, it could very well cause me and other pro-gun Democrats to stay home during the next elections. The fight against those on the left and right who wish to strip us of our constitutional rights is never ending and I'm glad my membership to the NRA and the ACLU are up to date.
Its not the good people that we need to worry about, its the people who see the problems in someone and says nothing. I am talking about mental, or troubled ones that we say nothing for what ever reason. Most of the people who did these killing, they were observed by one or more people of beening mentally or troubled and said nothing to authorities. You can have all the background checks you want, but this will not ever stop these incidents from happening. You want to stop a lot of these crimes, prosecute the criminals and bring back the death penalty. You kill someone unjustly, you die too.
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.
The NRA and money owns them – NOT we the people
You ask for a rational debate on gun control by refering to a 100 million law abiding gun owners as "gun crazies". Until you put your prejuduice and bigotry aside, there will never be any meaningful discussion on the topic.
A well regulated militia. Not people. Just like the 1st amend the 2nd amend states, the right of the people.
To me, the NRA has armed the Mexican Cartel. I bet the cartel bought most of their USA-made guns right in the good old USA. Look how many thousands of Mexicans have been killed with guns from the USA!. Look how many drug- related shootings, killings and robberies are happening daily here in the USA. Guns and drugs go hand in hand. I see it not just the drugs from Mexico but in all the meth labs being discovered in my state.
Oh God !! Perry's coming to town – to that convention center – LOL – oh brother !! Too bad Ann Richards isn't still living, she would give Perry a run for his money – lol – She would pass Perry's Votes in a heart beat !! google Ann Richards – she was one of the best, if not the best we've had here. ( Governors) Oh well, It IS, what it IS.
2014 vote is not that far away. the GOP NRA puppets better get their lobby jobs lined up cause they are going to need them.
Kelly has a lot of nerve whining about NRA fund raising when his PAC is about nothing but fund raising.
We can only hope that the liberals loose big in 2016. Their agenda is about as counter productive and twisted as it gets.
It never ceases to amaze me how people spout off about how people that kill other people with guns are the crazies and that background checks wouldn't prevent them from getting guns in the first place. Is it possible that every person that has shot another person with a gun is either mentally ill or a criminal? Is it not possible that sane, law-abiding citizens purchase guns and sometimes shoot people? In other words, are you people saying that it's only the mentally ill and criminals that kill and never the law-abiding gun owners??? I'm absolutely positive that if you looked at every person who has shot and killed someone else, the vast majority of them were law abiding citizens before they decided to shoot somebody else. I am so sick of that empty argument.
Americans love their guns and don't care about the sanctity of the 2nd amendment. No one can possibly believe that the framers thought it a great idea to have their fellow citizens armed to the teeth.
Chris Rock said it best. Own as many guns as you'd like, but bullets should cost $50,000.00 each!
It was Gun owning Americans that created the United States of America.
Guns, not Gun control but armed Americans with assault rifles. One of the guns they want to ban now.
It makes no sense.
Instead of getting upset that a gun control measure (that wouldn't have done a thing to prevent the recent mass shootings) didn't get passed, concerned folks should take a step back from their electronic life and raise their kids properly, And mental illness needs to be better and more often talked about in our society. We need to make it so people can again make public safety and priorty and not have it take a back seat to worries over possibly offending someone. For all the interconnectivity technology has given us, it seems like it is more and more easier for some people to feel "alone".
I'm, 56 and have been around weapons all my life, there is no FEAR of being hurt by them. Twice I've been in real danger (No-one likes a gun pointed at them) but I don't feel it was the gun, it's the people behind them, I think the people would have used a bat if that is all they had at the time, I don't think baseball should be outlawed because I fear getting the crap beat out of me, so I guess that's why I don't understand the cry to outlaw weapons. Weapons are to protect the freedom of Americans through out the land from oppression, real or perceived. It's the Choice to live free or die, people all over this planet crawl here for it's free living society. I'm still proud to be a Southern American, still believe in State Rights and State Choice. It (weapons registration and/or regulation) should stay a State issue and not another Federal unenforced law.