Hundreds of people rallied outside the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston Friday morning in opposition to a National Rifle Association convention being held just days after the deadly Uvalde school shooting.
Protestors outside held signs and shouted slogans like “lives over profits” and “asesinos” — “killers” in Spanish — as people of all ages protested the event. Harper Young, a Houston 10th-grader, said he was angry the meeting continued despite this week’s school shooting.
“It’s just absolutely sickening,” Harper said. “I don’t want to feel like I could get shot any moment while attending school. It’s just not right. It’s not okay.”
Others said they wanted common-sense gun laws, and hoped politicians could agree on compromises to keep everyone safer. Antonio Matamoros, 82, said he was afraid his great grandchildren won’t be safe in the future.
“I think we need to change some of the laws that would make it not so easy to have access to guns, and then also do away with high-powered rifles and the large magazines,” Matamoros said.
Friday’s event stood in the heavy shadow of one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, which occurred a few hours away in Uvalde. That’s where an 18-year-old entered Robb Elementary School on Tuesday and opened fire, killing 19 children and two adults.
As new details emerged in the following days, the response from law enforcementhas been called into question. Conservatives have also raised concerns about school security, while others have pushed for tougher firearm restrictions.
David Hogg, a gun control activist and survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, stressed the importance of voting in local elections.
“I believe this time it can be different, and it will be different,” Hogg said. “Mark my words: we will outlive the NRA.”
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
David Hogg, gun control advocate and survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting, speaks at a rally outside the NRA national convention on May 27, 2022.
Nearby at Houston City Hall, teachers and activists met in a public forum to discuss safety measures for students and educators.
“We have to find the common ground,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “And if we can’t find it, and people hide like they are in the NRA, we have to make sure that they are held accountable.”
Amid the discussion at Houston City Hall, parents, educators and activists also urged legislative actions to tackle gun violence.
“There is no reason why a student should have to worry, a parent should have to worry or anyone at campus should have to worry for their safety when you’re going to school to learn,” said Sandra Tanguma with the gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action. “We need to make that stop. And the only way that we’re going to make that stop is by going to our lawmakers.”
Andrew Schneider / Houston Public Media
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the NRA national convention on May 27, 2022.
Inside the convention, gun rights supporters heard a much different message.
“If we as a nation were capable of legislating evil out of hearts and minds, we would have done it long ago,” said NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre during his opening remarks.
LaPierre and others echoed arguments made this week by other prominent conservative voices: outright rejecting more strict gun laws as ineffective, and instead calling for increased security at schools and addressing mental health needs.
Former President Donald Trump — the event’s keynote speaker — called for schools to implement stronger exterior fencing and metal detectors, and also insisted that allowing concealed carry for teachers would be “so much better and so much more effective, even from a cost standpoint.”
Like LaPierre, Gov. Greg Abbott this week made a similar call for mental health awareness, though he also said the shooter in Uvalde did not have a record of mental health issues.
Abbott himself backed out of the convention at the last minute and instead went to Uvalde Friday. However, he did send the conference a prerecorded video, in which he mourned the loss of the 19 children and two adults killed Tuesday.
“Moments like this tear apart the very fabric of a community,” Abbott said in the video. “A community that until Tuesday never thought that a tragedy like this could ever happen at such a quiet, South Texas town like Uvalde.”
But while he urged the crowd to pray for the families in Uvalde, he — like LaPierre — painted the shooter as an “evil madman” that no law could stop from carrying out his plan.
“There are thousands of laws on the books across the country that limit the owning or using of firearms — laws that have not stopped madmen from carrying out evil acts on innocent people in peaceful communities,” Abbott said.
While Abbott said he skipped the NRA convention out of respect for the families, members of the DNC — who joined protestors at Discovery Green — criticized him for sending the video.
“An appearance is an appearance,” said U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. “He is still there taking sides with the NRA.”
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Beto O’Rourke speaks at a rally outside the NRA national convention on May 27, 2022.
Other politicians joined Abbott in skipping the event. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick canceled his appearance at Friday morning’s NRA breakfast, and Sen. John Cornyn cited a scheduling conflict. Others, including Sen. Ted Cruz and former President Donald Trump, did attend the event.
Back across the street, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke — who this week publicly called out Texas Republicans for what he said was inaction on preventing mass shootings — addressed convention-goers.
“You are not our enemies, we are not yours,” O’Rourke said. “We stand, our hands open and unarmed in a gesture of peace and fellowship to welcome you, to join us, to make sure that this no longer happens in this country. But the time for you to respond and to join us is now. We cannot wait any longer for you.”