(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.
I find it quite humorous that the same group that screams for protecting our constitutional rights when it comes to guns is more than happy to give away rights when it comes to terrorism (hell over the last week Fox News has called for curtailing free speech, due process, freedom of religion, search and seizure, torture...) all this from less than 2000 deaths from terrorism over the past 20 years yet over that same period close to a million people have been killed from gun violence. Does no one else see the irony in that?
The NRA needs Obama as its leader. He has generated more fear and made more money for gun manufacturers than anybody.
To follow up on my last comment:
There have been 156,577,620 gun registry applications submitted to the National Firearms Administration (NFA) from Nov 1998 to Nov 2012. -National Firearms Admin
There are absolutely hundreds of millions of guns in america. Guns don't expire or go bad.
One FACT is that a gun has never, EVER killed someone without a person being behind it.
Hey gurg, if you want a nation of disarmed citizens, try China or North Korea
As a individual that's fired weapons I have a high respect for them but I'm not afraid of them and I don't own any. Having said that, I feel that the gun control they're trying to impose now is akin to that of outlawing alcohol in the Prohibition Era of the early 1900's. It will do nothing but increase demand for something that's already listed as being a right in our Constitution. We all know what happened with Prohibition,- they repealed it. In the criminal mind the law doesn't exist. We must deal harshly with the criminal element, the person, rather than the weapon.
As a republican, I can clearly see that this has all become another way to "Stick it to Obama". Trying as hard as they can to block anything he proposes to make him look like a failure. Had Bush proposed the same thing, it would have passed without question.
Our politicians put their time in office ahead of the lives of children and what the people want. Shows what my candidates are made of. Come 2014, I'm voting against 2 candidates that I had voted for before... just because of their utter cowardism. I don't think I'm the only one.
The NRA and gun manfactures celebrate every time gun violence strikes because the demand for their products goes thru the roof. These animals have no morals and could care less about the impact their product has on society, just the profits made from their customers blood!!!
It just goes to show you that the republican party doesn't really care about the victims of gun violence. Their guns are more important than lives.....
giddyup, may all the "bad" people stay away from all the "good" guns and bullets. or is that may all the "bad" guns stay away from the "good" bullets, or is is the good people with bad guns but have good bullets?
As a republican, I can clearly see that this has all just become another way to tarnish Obama's image. Trying as hard as they can to block anything he proposes regardless of consequences or what is right. Had Bush proposed the same thing, it would have passed without question.
Our politicians put their time in office ahead of the lives of children. Shows what my candidates are made of. Come 2014, I'm voting against 2 candidates that I had voted for before... just because of the failure of this sensible gun legislation. I don't think I'm the only one.
Good for you Frank....
Our family have owned guns for years, but we were never members of the NRA. Of course that's all changed. We're all members now and will be for a very long time.
Mike Kelly addressed the NRA? the same bigot hypocrite who openly wants to take your AR-15 and secretly orders some for himself? typical liberal:LOL:
Background checks for purchase of pressure cookers!
The family IS from KY but I wonder how empowered the five year old who received a gun as a present for his fifth birthday and who shot and killed his sister feels. Same goes for his family. Her mother says the little girl is where she belongs in heaven. Right. Instead of on Earth with her family alive and wondering which doll to play with today.
How backwards can people be in the 21st century!!
Gun advocates keep saying that the proposed background check law would not have prevented the Sandy Hook tragedy but they're totally wrong! What happened in Sandy Hook was the result of a mentally unstable woman buying assault weapons for her mentally unstable son. Had the proposed federally mandated back ground check system been in effect, this woman's mental health records would have prevented her from buying her assault weapons. Likewise, had the Virginia Tech shooter's mental health and criminal records been in a background check system, as well as the mental health and criminal records of the the Tucson, Aurora and Oak Creek shooters, they would have been denied sales of their weapons. Furthermore, the Aurora shooter bought over 6,000 rounds of ammo on line. A sensible gun legislation would have restricted such reckless and irresponsible transaction.
Wearing a shirt that resembles the US flag is disrespectful! STOP MAKING CLOTHING OUT OF THE FLAG!
Several responsible gun owners have died recently merely hauling there rifles outta their pick ups. In the military, you are never allowed to just let a gun drop. A gun with nobody behind it is still highly dangerous.
It's a shame we actually have more control over cigarettes and booze than we do guns. NRA advocates are a bunch of sick people. Too stupid to see that no one is taking away anything to do with the second amendment. Their reasoning is someone of the likes of Sarah Palin or Rick Perry said it was so. Therefore it must be.
I wonder if they'd change their tune if someone shot their way through those inbred hicks at their convention. They'd probably just write it off as God's will...
To whitepine, you said " the NRA has armed the Mexican Cartel." The NRA had nothing to do with that, your GOVERNMENT did. Why don't you ask Eric Holder who sold the guns to the Mexican Cartel. Ever hear of Fast and Furious?
What the NRA has no sane answer for:
The only widely available machine that can kill several innocent victims who are running away from you to try and be safe is a gun.
The only widely available machine that can kill one or more victims seeking safety by locking themselves in their car is a gun.
The only widely available machine that can kill one or more victims who merely happen to be driving nearby is a gun.
The only widely available machine that can kill one or more victims from a passing nearby car is a gun.
The machine that absolutely cannot protect a victim from being surprised and shot at, is a gun.
As an ex-military sniper, I know I could kill ANY unarmored enemy, or small group, using even a simple rifle, from up to half a mile away. And it wouldn’t matter how many, or what types of guns they were carrying. I’d get a whole bunch them before they would have a chance to use their own guns or figure out where I was.
Put it to a plebescite and you will find most Americans will support some kind of gun control. There are way too many lives being lost because of lack of gun control. Those archaic laws that say you have the right to be armed are not designed for today's society. Those laws were made over a hundred years ago and they need to be brought up to today's standards regarding public safety.
ken, I completely understand what you say and why you say it. I believe you are utterly wrong in each and all of your assertions. How on earth can you know what a plebiscite would say until we have one? The number of lives lost because of lack of gun control is nil. Zero. None. There have been lives lost due to murder, self-defense, accident etc. I do not believe these laws are archaic. I think they are as relevant today as they were originally. Perhaps more so, and yes, I see Nazi Germany as the epitome of the worse-case scenario as to what governments can become if left unchecked. (No, I do not believe we are on that path – it's just an example to illustrate a point.) But I AM willing to listen. AND I'm willing to defend your right to speak against my opinions, in the military, as I did. And I carried a rifle the entire time.
"The NRA and gun manfactures celebrate every time gun violence strikes because the demand for their products goes thru the roof. These animals have no morals and could care less about the impact their product has on society, just the profits made from their customers blood"
We could same the same for Planned Parenthood and their abortion mills
The NRA should be labeled a terrorist organization. They take money from gun manufactures and push one industry's agenda abusing the second ammendments intent just to sell more guns and turn America in to a police state where everybody has guns police, crooks, military, teachers, students alike....they could careless about Americans. Everytime an issue is brought up they argue "had someone with a gun been their they could have stopped this" What they are saying is "had someone with a gun been there the death tool and probably the wounded tool would increase". What a bunch of un american unpatriotic self serving nation dividers.