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At NRA convention in Houston, politicians deflect blame

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to keep our focus on the annual meeting of the gun rights lobby we mentioned earlier. The NRA is meeting in Houston, Texas, this year, the gathering taking place as residents of Uvalde mourn 19 children and two teachers who were shot to death in their school on Tuesday. Seventeen others were wounded. Protesters gathered outside the convention hall, calling for measures to stem gun violence, but the NRA and speakers have said again that guns are not the problem. Andrew Schneider of Houston Public Media is at the convention, and he's with us now to tell us more about it. Andrew, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

ANDREW SCHNEIDER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Could you just start by telling us what happened at the meeting today?

SCHNEIDER: Right. Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president and CEO, survived a vote of no confidence. That's despite accusations of financial mismanagement and abuse of the organization's funds. He also strongly encouraged members to get out and vote this November to help Republicans take back control of Congress.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: We're fighting against partisans who would rather disarm law-abiding Americans than protect the innocent and our God-given rights. But I'll tell you this. We are going to rise to the challenge. There's.

MARTIN: So what's it like inside the convention hall? There are protesters outside the meeting. What's that scene like?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it's a pretty healthy crowd here, probably in the tens of thousands, but not as high as in past years, before the pandemic. That's in part down to the organization not having met in person for the past two years and in part to the high price of gasoline keeping travelers off the roads. There was a series of high-profile speakers yesterday, including former President Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. They all started by talking about the tragedy in Uvalde but quickly pivoted to arguments that Ryan Busse made before the break that stricter gun laws would not have prevented the tragedy and that this was unfairly targeting law-abiding gun owners' rights. And, yes, there have been protesters outside the hall calling for stricter gun laws, background checks and generally opposing the gathering itself in the wake of Uvalde.

MARTIN: So despite these mentions of the massacre in Uvalde, it sounds like the NRA, the speakers there, aren't deviating from their usual stance, what's become their usual stance this weekend. That's what I'm hearing.

SCHNEIDER: Not at all. No. I was speaking with Jeff Knox. He's an opponent of LaPierre's who actually put forward the motion to have him removed. And while he opposes the leadership, he strongly supports the organization and its mission.

JEFF KNOX: People who want to point at the NRA and gun owners and the, quote-unquote, "gun lobby" for atrocities like this - we know we didn't do this. We didn't cause this. We have no culpability in it.

MARTIN: So Andrew, before we let you go, what has stood out to you the most today? What's been most striking to you?

SCHNEIDER: What's been most striking to me is how much this seems like an ordinary trade show. Yes, it's filled with guns. It's filled with tactical equipment. It's filled with ammunition. But the mood itself seems not that different from any other gathering I've seen here at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

MARTIN: That is Andrew Schneider of Houston Public Media. Andrew, thank you so much.

SCHNEIDER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE EXPENDABLES' "BOWL FOR TWO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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