Texas town rescinds lease for Friends of NRA event after protesters descend on city council

AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File

Bowing to pressure from activists, including at least one parent of a student murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, the city council in Hondo, Texas rescinded a lease agreement between the local Friends of NRA chapter and a city-owned event hall on Monday evening, voting 4-1 to cancel the agreement and forcing the volunteer chapter to find a new place to hold their fundraising dinner or cancel this weekend’s event.

Friends of NRA dinners have been held in Hondo for at least 15 years, but on Monday evening opponents argued it was too soon after the shootings in Uvalde, located about 40 miles from Hondo, and claimed it would be inappropriate to raffle off firearms while the community is still grieving.

Backers of the NRA event insisted it helped young people learn how to responsibly handle guns and that no one meant disrespect to the shooting victims. But Angel Garza, stepfather of Amerie Jo Garza, and others condemned the event, saying it would have come too soon after the massacre.
“My daughter’s dirt hasn’t even settled in her grave yet,” he told reporters, cradling a framed color photo of the girl.
After a 53-minute closed-door executive session, the council voted 4-1 to rescind the rental contract, drawing cheers and applause from Uvalde residents and some from Hondo who filled the small chamber, making it one of the biggest meetings here in years — if ever.
“Hallejuah!” one woman cried, anticipating the vote before it was taken.
“It was the best news that we got. We’re so happy, we’re so happy,” Berlinda Arreola, grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, 10, said through tears after the vote. “It’s out of courtesy and it’s out of compassion that they did that. It was greatly appreciated.”

There was only one dissenting vote on the city council. Councilman Brett Williams said he knew his decision would make a lot of folks unhappy, but he had to vote based on what “God… put in my heart.”

“The solitary deranged individual whose motives will never be fully known shattered the lives of numerous families in Uvalde,” he said, adding that intense emotions “oftentimes lead to unjustified knee-jerk reactions. At this time, we are faced with one of those reactions and I’m by myself in this.
“Denying the rights of legal, law-abiding organizations and individuals is not the answer,” he added.
I’m deeply sympathetic to the families in Uvalde, but I have to agree with the councilman here. First, the lease agreement was signed last year, long before the murders in Uvalde took place. The city gave no indication that it was planning on revisiting or rescinding the agreement until Monday, blindsiding organizers and giving them little time to find another location before the dinner on Saturday evening. The city council met in executive session for nearly an hour before casting their vote, so presumably they discussed the potential legal ramifications of pulling out of the lease agreement before they cast their vote, but I’d be curious to see what the contract says in terms of the city being able to cancel lease agreements on such short notice and purely because of public pressure.
The opponents of the Friends of NRA dinner are entitled to their opinion, and have every right to picket or protest the event on public property. The city council, however, chose instead to engage in a little viewpoint discrimination through their actions, even if they were just trying to be sensitive to the desires of grieving parents like Angel Garza.
There were a number of options that the council could have taken, including offering to lease that same event center for a pro-gun control event at a future date and even letting opponents of the dinner know where they could legally protest the Friends of NRA dinner as it happened. Instead, Mayor John McAnelly and a majority of the city council simply caved to the pressure from protesters
“I need for folks to understand that we, the city, are not sponsoring the event. We, the city, simply are renting … the fair hall and this outfit has rented it in the past as have other outfits,” said McAnelly, who served nine years on the council and has been mayor for the past three months. “The demand to pull the permit is something that has to be very carefully considered.”
… After the council broke up, the mayor made a brief prepared statement saying “although revoking the Friends of the NRA’s use of the Fair Hall may not be what some would have preferred, I assure you that all parties’ interests in this matter were considered before the City Council voted this evening.”
They might have been considered initially, but I don’t think the final vote reflects a due consideration of the agreement the city had reached with the local Friends of NRA committee. Whether they like it or not, the city council members who voted to terminate the lease agreement days before the event have taken sides in the gun control debate, and while their decision may have had more to do with trying to respect grieving family members than casting a vote for gun control, there were plenty of options for the city that didn’t involve shutting down an event that was expected to raise thousands of dollars to help promote safe and responsible gun ownership in the local area.