The three-day NRA gathering opened Friday, bringing thousands of the rifle association’s most active members to one place — this year Indianapolis. It also attracted presidential contenders or possible candidates looking for votes — including Donald Trump.
"You know sometimes I think 'please don’t say that,' but then again he’s our voice," said Joel Wetter, a NRA member.
NRA members listened to political pitches to put a Republican back in the White House.
"I believe our gun rights are under attack by the politicians in Illinois every day. It's something that needs to be confronted head on. I believe the NRA is doing that, but also something the president needs to do as well," said Cassandra Wheatley, an NRA member.
The big draw was the last Republican president.
Trump, considered ahead in the polls, stoked the crowd in friendly territory, his first public appearance since being arraigned in New York on felony charges in connection with hush money payments he made to a porn actress.
"If you put me back in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, no one will lay a finger on those firearms," Trump said.
The scheduling shows a bleak reality of modern American life: Mass shootings occur with such a regularity to the effect that the NRA can’t schedule around them.
This year’s convention falls on the second anniversary of a 2021 shooting at an Indianapolis FedEx facility that claimed nine lives.
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"Bad things are gonna happen whether or not you want them to, but background checks can’t always stop that. And we have the Second Amendment, like I said whether or not we have background checks, Second Amendment’s more important," said Shane Allen, a NRA member.
What was clear was that renewed calls for gun control policies by Democrats and protestors amid recent mass shootings have not swayed the NRA.
Instead, its leader says the organization will double down on pushing to ease gun laws in a country where about 45% of households have a firearm, and where factories pump out nearly 14 million weapons annually.
"In fact, NRA members have liberated more than half the nation now with constitutional carry. But we're not stopping until it's the law of the land in all of the land. I promise you that," said Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA.
Red meat rhetoric about the Second Amendment got the most applause.
But former Vice President Mike Pence, also once a governor of Indiana, got booed before delivering his remarks.
Considering his own run for president, Pence then went on to lay blame on the latest mass shootings on cultural issues and a mental health crisis.
"Ignoring the motivations of the trans activist, who killed three children and three adults at the Christian school in Nashville and ignoring the mental health challenges of the man who killed five people and injured eight others in Louisville. President Biden and the Democrats have returned to the same tired arguments about gun control and gun confiscation. We don’t need gun control — we need crime control," Pence said.
Rounding out the speeches were Governor Ron DeSantis, former ambassador Nikki Haley and U.S. Senator Tim Scott, all by video message.
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