HOUSTON -- The National Rifle Association opens 400,000 square feet of exhibit space at the George R. Brown Convention Center Friday morning for its 142nd annual convention. Protesters plan to fill the lawn across the street at Discovery Green for the three-day event.
The NRA convention with 550 exhibitors, including firearms manufacturers, gun collectors and hunting outfitters, is the first since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. The NRA was among the groups that lobbied successfully to defeat proposed legislation that followed, including a sweeping enhancement of background checks for potential gun buyers.
"I think every mother in this country knows where she was when she heard about Newtown,” said Bellaire-area resident Michelle Green. She is a member of the Houston chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It’s a group that formed after the Sandy Hook massacre. Green will be among the protesters this weekend outside the convention.
“I think it's very disappointing that they are not moving on common sense gun laws that the vast majority of Americans want,” said Green.
“My answer to those mothers,” said NRA President David Keene in a Thursday interview with KHOU 11 News, “is we are as concerned about the safety of your children, our children, and everyone else’s as everyone. We disagree on how you go about providing that safety."
Keene says the NRA continues to advocate increased armed security at American schools. The NRA has always maintained that had the proposals suggested by the Manchin-Toomey Amendment been in place before the Sandy Hook shooting, that they would have done nothing to stop the attacks.
"Our question is, and this is why the Senate vote turned out the way it did, is if your proposal were in effect last year, would it have prevented Newtown. And the answer (we get) is invariably ‘no, but we think it's a good idea anyway."'
"None of these shootings would have been prevented by any of the proposals that were made in the United States Senate,” said Keene.
The three-day event is billed as the biggest ever for the NRA.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent and Glenn Beck will be among the featured celebrities. Keene expects the biggest ever attendance of NRA members. He says events like Sandy Hook, while creating a groundswell of calls for change in gun laws, also swelled NRA membership: members concerned about an impact on second amendment rights.
"We are not naive enough to believe that because the Senate did not do what the President and Michael Bloomberg wanted them to do a week ago, that the struggle is over. It's a continuing struggle,” said Keene.
But moms like Michelle Green, who have patterned their fledgling organization after MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, say they are in this fight for the long haul too.
“We're not going away until something is fixed and until democracy is working on this issue,” said Green. “Our issue isn't with NRA members. In fact, we have a sizeable number of NRA members in our group. Our issue is with the NRA leadership. We wish they would embrace some common sense. But if not, Moms are not going away."
Onsite registration for the NRA’s 142nd annual convention begins Friday at 8 a.m.