O'Rourke demands Abbott skip NRA meeting in Houston

AP Photo/Andres Leighton

In less than 48 hours the doors of the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston are expected to open wide for tens of thousands of NRA members to head inside and explore the acres of exhibits, seminars, and events that are a part of the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting of Members. Friday afternoon the NRA is scheduled to put on its annual NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, with appearances by former president Donald Trump, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, and a host of Texas politicians including senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, along with Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott’s opponent in November’s gubernatorial election, however, is demanding Abbott give the group a cold shoulder. Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, who’s now back on his gun control bandwagon after months of telling voters he’s not interested in taking anyone’s guns (anymore), wasted little time after the news broke about the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday to try to score political points against his Republican opponent.

If the NRA meeting does go on as scheduled in Houston this weekend, expect O’Rourke and a host of other Democrats to descend on the convention center to protest the gathering of gun owners. This is simply too good a media opportunity for them to pass up, with any protest of more than four or five people sure to garner national attention from the press.

As of right now, there’s no word on any changes to the NRA’s meeting, and preparations continued at the convention center on Tuesday afternoon.

Houston First CEO Michael Heckman said Tuesday he was not aware of any cancellations or changes to the NRA’s schedule.
Former President Donald Trump will be part of a slate of speakers Friday. Gov. Greg Abbott, State Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and U.S.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw are also scheduled to speak to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum.
The convention center Exhibit Hall buzzed with activity Tuesday as staffers arranged guns and gear from across the rifle industry over roughly 14 acres.
Ticket booths beckoned visitors, as did the gun rights advocacy group’s website.
“Make plans now to join fellow Second Amendment patriots for a freedom-filled weekend for the entire family as we celebrate Freedom, Firearms, and the Second Amendment!” that website read.
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment on the shooting or the upcoming meeting.
The convention center was plastered with signs for the NRA’s 150th anniversary, with banners promoting gun sponsors and gun giveaways during the meeting. Staffers erected red and white-curtained booths inside the arena, where cranes delivered freight loads of gun company gear.
At a vigil for shooting victims in Houston Tuesday night, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat, called on the NRA to cancel its event, joining others who said “it’s not the time.”
It’s awfully short notice to cancel the Annual Meeting, especially with many attendees already arriving in the city, but it’s still possible that the group will scale back some of its activities this weekend. The NRA hasn’t hosted an Annual Meeting since 2019, with the 2020 and 2021 conventions cancelled because of COVID restrictions and concerns, but the only time the organization curtailed a meeting because of a mass shooting was the 1999 Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, which was scheduled to begin days after the shootings at Columbine High School in nearby Littleton, Colorado.
While we don’t have any insight into the NRA’s current thinking, we do know a little bit about the decision to cancel most of the NRA’s events in 1999, thanks to leaked audio that emerged more than 20 years later. Last November a number of media outlets released portions of more than 2 1/2 hours of discussion between NRA leadership as they wrestled with how to proceed after the shooting.

“Everything we do here has a downside,” NRA official Kayne Robinson says on the tapes. “Don’t anybody kid yourself about this great macho thing of going down there and showing our chest and showing how damn tough we are. … We are in deep s*** on this deal. … And so anything we do here is going to be a matter of trying to decide the best of a whole bunch of very, very bad choices.”

That’s probably a fair assessment of where the NRA is at the moment as well. Cancel or curtail the Annual Meetings and they’ll face the ire of at least a portion of their membership. Continue with business as usual and they’ll likely face large protests both outside and inside the convention center (I wouldn’t put it past anti-gun activists to buy an NRA membership simply to gain access to the meetings). I have no idea what the NRA will decide to do about this weekend, but the clock is ticking.