The NRA's convention is shrinking, whether it likes it or not

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

So far the National Rifle Association hasn’t cancelled any of the events and activities that are a part of the organization’s Annual Meetings, which kick off this morning in Houston, Texas, but the convention is shaping up to be scaled back regardless, with at least one gun company backing out and several politicians and entertainers pulling their own participation over the next few days.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was scheduled to be a part of the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum on Friday afternoon, now says he’s going to spend the afternoon in Uvalde, though he will deliver pre-recorded remarks via video.

Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, two other high-profile Texas Republicans who had been scheduled to attend, have also backed out, citing scheduling conflicts they said were unrelated to Tuesday’s shooting at Robb Elementary School, about 270 miles from Houston.

Speakers who remain on the list for the event include former President Donald Trump, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Trump said in a statement Wednesday that he would keep his “longtime commitment to speak in Texas at the NRA Convention and deliver an important address to America.”

The NRA’s “Grand Ole Night of Freedom” concert scheduled for Saturday evening, meanwhile, will be missing several performers who were slated to entertain an expected crowd of over 1,000 NRA members.

Lee Greenwood and other musicians backed out of a scheduled concert at the National Rifle Association’s convention in Houston, citing the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Greenwood, in a statement, said after “thoughtful consideration” his band decided to cancel its appearance for Saturday’s event.

“As a father, I join the rest of America in being absolutely heartbroken by the horrific event that transpired this week in Texas,” he said in a statement, according to Variety.

“I was scheduled to perform at the 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.”

Greenwood, known for his hit “God Bless the USA,” pulled out after “American Pie” singer Don McLean backed out of the concert.

Other musicians on Thursday also said they wouldn’t show up at the event dubbed The Grand Ole Night of Freedom, including country singers Larry Gatlin and Larry Stewart, according to USA Today. Both cited the tragedy in Uvalde, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers.

As of Friday morning, the only entertainer listed on the concert’s website that is still scheduled to perform is country singer Jacob Bryant, and while most of the entertainers and politicians who’ve decided not to participate in this weekend’s convention have said they’re doing so out of respect for the victims in Uvalde and their families or because of scheduling conflicts, Larry Gatlin said in a statement that cannot “in good conscience” perform at the NRA show.

“While I agree with most of the positions held by the NRA, I have come to believe that, while background checks would not stop every madman with a gun, it is at the very least a step in the right direction toward trying to prevent the kind of tragedy we saw this week in Uvalde — in my beloved, weeping TEXAS.

“My prayers and thoughts go to all who are suffering, and I pray that the NRA will rethink some of its outdated and ill-thought-out positions regarding firearms in AMERICA,” Gatlin added. “I’m a 2nd Amendment guy, but the 2nd Amendment should not apply to everyone. It’s that simple.”

It’s not that simple, of course, but Gatlin is entitled to his opinion. The killer in Uvalde passed a background check, first of all, and if Gatlin wants to expand the prohibiting factors for legal gun ownership beyond a felony (or domestic violence misdemeanor) convictions or an adjudication of mental illness, I’d love to hear what else he’d like to add to the list.

Will NRA members also stay away from the Annual Meetings? We’ll have a better idea by Saturday afternoon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if attendance is lighter than normal today given the protests scheduled to take place directly outside the George R. Brown Convention Center. I can tell you that the downtown area on Thursday evening didn’t appear to be nearly as busy as it was the last time the NRA was in town, though some of that might just be a function of a holiday weekend. I’ve seen attendance estimates range as wide as 55,000 on the low end to 80,000 on the high end, so at this point I don’t believe anyone really has a good idea of what the final attendance numbers will be.

We’ll have more coverage of the NRA Annual Meetings today and throughout the weekend, including today’s Leadership Forum (which, besides featuring an address by former President Donald Trump, will also be the first public address by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre since the shootings in Uvalde), the protests outside, and conversations with attendees about a number of topics; from what lawmakers should be focusing on to try to prevent active shooter situations to their views on the continued leadership of LaPierre and the challenge to his leadership by former congressman, former Texas GOP chairman, and former NRA board member Allen West.