(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.
"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."
So in a sense, it is about you, the NRA member as I am sure many people in the gun industry are also NRA members. Faulty logic Mark, better luck next time pal.
Don't DEMS work?
Corrrections "there" and "toll".
Kelly is right that the nra does not speak for it's members. More importantly it does not speak for America. Change is in the wind and the harder the nra fights against that change the more they will be out of step. In my view that is a good thing because the nra has no desire for reaonable or rational change. To them anything that does not increase gun sales to anyone for any reason is a crime against the state. People realize that the hitler, stalin, nk, china arguments are garbage because they don't have 230+ years of Constitutional law in their history proving things can be done civilly.
"Makes sense that the NRA would have Palin and Beck speaking. That's their idea of intelligence–clearly the best they can do"
Perhaps you'd prefer they address Planned Parenthood, like your socialist savior? (Where he found the time to address their convention with all the issues the country is facing I'll never know. And "God bless you?" Pardon me while I puke)
As a former Republican from a family of republicans I am hoping that all of them get voted out of office as they are not helping any cause.
Same, the biggest "nation divider" is in the Oval Office.
And where is your concern for "the children" in the Planned Parenthood abortion mills? (Your socialist savior said "God Bless You" at their convention. Pardon me while I puke)
@Paul – Obama needs this kind of highly charged political debate to obscure talk about his failed presidency.
Spoken like a true Repub Obama hater! Let's see, both the Dow & S&P are at all time highs, jobs have been in the positve numbers for well over two years now, Iraq war has ended, Afghanistan war is winding down, healthcare reform has been passed, etc. What on earth do you haters want of this man...do you even know????
The NRA is made up of millions of law abiding citizens. So if you want to call the NRA a terrorist organization you should probably come down south and say it to our faces. See how far that gets you.
Even though I live in Houston, in case some "advocates" or "mentally ill persons" decide to come to Houston and stage some kind of shootout drama for the benefit of whoever, I will be out of town until Monday.
I wonder if the "patriot" in the flag shirt, in the photo, knows he is in violation of the U.S. Flag Code, Section 8 d.
Probably not. Probably doesn't care. Probably doesn't know there is such a thing.
The NRA is having a convention. I imagine each of them accepts responsibility for protecting themselves and keep their guns secure from children and the mentally hill.. Each one of them understands physics of shooting and understands ithe average pistol bullet travels faster than 1000 feet per second, best speed for a police response is 3-5 minutes, and that means if a criminal threatens to shoot you it is all on your shoulders because the police are guaranteed to arrive 3- minutes too late.
It's a feeding fest of scare me tactics and anti Obama fever. The leadership of the NRA is leading these sheep into a dangerous frenzy. I fear for our country.
If you don't like guns, don't buy one. Don't try to deprive me of my 2nd Ammendment rights, you socialists! Taking away our guns is the next step. They already have the media in their pockets.
In 2014 the American people will out-gun the NRA at the polls. We've had long enough to know all the their lies and that the organization's motivation is purely to make money at any cost...including multiple thousands of American lives a year. You can't get any more unAmerican than the NRA.
Meanwhile, another toddler dies as a result of a "responsible gun owner". (a 3-year old in AZ).
Mark just described the politics of the NRA! Accurately. I thinks those words with just a few words chanced describe accurately where America is as a whole. It's not about you the citizen it's about the corporations and money. I am positive that this country is doomed to fail because of it.
Please do the US a favor and take your asinine rhetoric with you on your way to the NRA convention. People like you are the reason none of us can stand repubs anymore. You're all crazy.
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...
I too am a fan of "Burn Notice," however referring to convention attendees as "inbred hicks," (especially when you have no actual knowledge whether or not that statement is true) makes the rest of your statement ignorable.
If the expanded background checks infringe on the 2nd Amendment then don't the current background checks do that too? So shouldn't all background checks be abandoned & gun ownership thrown open to violent criminals & the diagnosed mentally ill? Frankly, I don't think so-but that's the logical conclusion of the opponents arguments. Background checks aren't perfect but they're better than nothing-and expanding them would be better than abandoning them.
The NRA and the GOPT/D gun lobbyists say they need assault weapons to defend themselves against the bad guys with guns, yet they oppose legislation to keep guns out of the hands of the bad guys. Does their argument make any sense? I didn't think so!
Guns and religion go hand in hand for the gun fanatics and Southern country boys....
We could balance the budget. TAX BULLETS.
I have had guns all my life....my two kids ( son and daughter) know how to safely handle a weapon and can defend themselves....and they will teach their childern.....there are many more like me who keep working hard and not sticking our hands out for help at every chance we get. If this country ever try's to take guns from us as individuals there we be big push back.....and we have the guns and we know how to use them. Think the military will turn on civilians? Think again.....they would help kick those in government out those who mess with our rights.....so bring it
Does the NRA ban guns at their convention? Can you conceal and carry there?