HOUSTON — The National Rifle Association convention is underway in Houston, just days after 19 students and two adults were shot and killed inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
Attendees began arriving Friday morning as protestors gathered outside the George R. Brown Convention Center.
KHOU 11 News Reporter Marcelino Benito is inside the George R. Brown Convention Center and will be covering the event.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott provided prerecorded remarks at the event while he stayed in Uvalde, Texas to hold a press conference Friday afternoon.
Abbott's message at the convention focused on Uvalde and the victims, but he makes it clear that "no existing or new law could have prevented the evil gunman from committing this act of violence against innocent children."
According to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, tens of thousands of people are expected to attend over the course of the three-day event at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
There are protests and demonstrations happening across the Houston area.
Protests planned today
There's been pressure on the NRA to cancel the convention, following the massacre in Uvalde. Groups are planning protests today, including the following:
- Discovery Green at 9:30 a.m.
- GRB Main Entrance at 10 a.m.
- Houston City Hall at 10:45 a.m.
- Rally at Discovery Green at noon
Faith leaders and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke plans to be at the rally in Discovery Green.
All events for scheduled for Saturday at Discovery Green have been canceled as a safety precaution.
Performers canceling NRA appearances
"American Pie" singer Don McLean was set to perform at the event but dropped out.
"In light of the recent events in Texas, I have decided it would be disrespectful and hurtful for me to perform for the NRA at their convention in Houston this week," he said in a statement.
"I'm sure all the folks planning to attend this event are shocked and sickened by these events as well. After all, we are all Americans," the statement continued.
McLean's statement concluded, "I share the sorrow for this terrible, cruel loss with the rest of the nation."
Lee Greenwood also announced he would not perform.
"As a father, I join the rest of America in being absolutely heartbroken by the horrific event that transpired this week in Texas. I was scheduled to perform at NRA’s private event on Saturday with my band. After thoughtful consideration, we have decided to cancel the appearance out of respect for those mourning the loss of those innocent children and teachers in Uvalde.
"During this Memorial Day Weekend, we should also remember the servicemen and women, and first responders who’ve given their lives to protect our great country. Please join me to pay our respects as we unite together as would be the most appropriate measure at this time."
Larry Gatlin won't be attending either, releasing a video message on Twitter explaining why.
Key speakers still attending; some pulling out
Former President Donald Trump is still scheduled to headline the event. Guns won't be allowed in the auditorium where the former president will be speaking, per the NRA, as the Secret Service handles security.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R- Texas, is also set to take the stage at the convention. Gov. Greg Abbott was scheduled to appear in-person, but will instead lead a video message. The governor will instead be in Uvalde for a news conference this afternoon.
“We must not react to evil and tragedy by abandoning the Constitution or infringing on the rights of our law-abiding citizens,” said Cruz, who was among the Republican leaders who lined up to speak before the gun rights lobbying group Friday as hundreds of protesters angry about gun violence demonstrated outside.
Former President Trump, in his remarks, was set to call for “drastically” changing the nation’s approach to mental health” and “a top-to-bottom security overhaul at schools across this country,” while dismissing calls to disarm gun owners, according to excerpts of his speech.
“The existence of evil in our world is not a reason to disarm law-abiding citizens — the existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens,” he said,
Wayne LaPierre, the group’s chief executive, began with remarks bemoaning "Twenty-one beautiful lives ruthlessly and indiscriminately extinguished by a criminal monster.”
Still, he said that “restricting the fundamental human rights of law-abiding Americans to defend themselves is not the answer. It never has been.”
Later, several hundred people in the auditorium stood and bowed their heads in a moment of silence for the victims of the Uvalde school shooting. There were many empty seats.
Contributions to NRA and gun lobby
Over the course of his political career, which began in 2012, Cruz has accepted $176,284 in political donations from the NRA, according to the nonprofit group OpenSecrets..
Gov. Abbott has accepted $16,200 in political donations from the NRA and the Texas State Rifle Association over the course of his political career, which began in 2002, according to the Texas Ethics Commission
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who canceled his appearance at the NRA prior to the mass shooting in Uvalde, has received $583,816 from the NRA over his 20-year political career, according to OpenSecrets.org. U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, who also withdrew from the NRA Convention before the Uvalde mass shooting, has received $5,665 from the NRA since 2018, per OpenSecrets.org.
Open secrets also has the total for members of Congress from all gun rights during their career. Cruz is #1 in Congress, Cornyn #3 and Crenshaw #19.
Convention safety measures
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said despite the massacre in Uvalde, he can't order the convention to be canceled since it was booked two years ago.
He expects around 80,000 people to attend the event.
"For those persons who will be attending the NRA, whether we agree with the positions they take on guns, we certainly will be providing the necessary security for those who will be attending the NRA convention," said Mayor Turner Thursday.
As for calls to cancel, some visitors to the convention say it should go on.
"We will not allow our Second Amendment rights be taken away from us by a bunch of cheap politicians," said one visitor to the GRB on Thursday.
We still don’t know all the street closures. The city said it would be releasing a map of them, but we still haven't seen it. We do have the protest map below.
Houston police said the protests near the convention will be confined to Discovery Green.
Adding to the traffic, Ft. Bend ISD has graduation at Toyota Center tonight and tomorrow.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.