Protesters speak outside Houston-hosted NRA Convention
Attendee at the May 27, 2022 NRA protest held at Discovery Green. Photo by Jimmie Aggison.

Tensions were not nearly as high as some expected as protesters confronted NRA Convention attendees and members of the various law enforcement agencies who were there to protect them. However, passions were still on level 10 regarding people’s stances on gun accessibility, gun reform, gun violence and the need for something to be done to protect children, teachers and others from being potential targets.

The Defender Network was on the scene—the George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Green—in the persons of photographer extraordinaire Jimmie Aggison and associate editor Aswad Walker, to capture the both the sights and sounds of the protest, which featured several high school and college student speakers demanding gun reform, as well as activists Kandice Webber, University of Houston Student Government Association President Joshua Martin, Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, Black Lives Matter member Ashton P. Woods and representatives of Moms Demand Action, Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, and other groups. In addition, several family members of loved ones lost to gun violence were in attendance along with many elected officials, including U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and State Rep. Jolanda Jones.

Here’s what some protesters (and one NRA member) had to say about why they attended and what they believe needs to be done:

REASON FOR ATTENDING

I decided to come because I pray and I vote, but I wanted to do something else. I wanted to get out and actually participate. And I had told my coworkers, I hope someone from the news would interview me because I had something I wanted to say, because what we see is evil being perpetrated without an answer for it. And it’s about the money and power. To them, money is power and power is money, and they use it interchangeably to promote what they want to do. And the most evil thing about it is the children and the people who have to pay for their greed. I’m just so angry and so upset about it. But I know I have to do something about it. I can’t just get angry. (Taria Page, faith community member)

I just felt like it was important for us as part of this community to come out and stand in solidarity with people who feel like there should be a difference made. (Davien Moran, entrepreneur and UH student)

Eulalia Gillum and other NRA protesters at Discovery Green on May 27, 2022. Photo by Aswad Walker.

I think it’s extremely insensitive and tone death to the families, the children in the entire community that were just traumatized just a few days ago for the NRA to hold this convention in Houston, Texas. I understand the contract had to be held here, but then to add insult to injury, we have elected officials who are compensated by us, the taxpayers, who are actively participating in the NRA Convention. But the time is now, and we can’t keep going through this with our children. I have a school-aged child (Eulalia Gillum, concerned parent)

Abraham Asabi and other NRA protesters at Discovery Green on May 27, 2022. Photo by Aswad Walker.

This has been going on for way too long. Like speakers have said, this gun violence, these mass shootings should have ended a long time ago. I’m tired, honestly, of these things continuing to happen again and again and again. I’m a person of color and this especially shouldn’t be happening to us, but it’s a reality, and it’s shouldn’t be. (Abraham Asabi, concerned citizen)

First of all, silence and not voting, staying home, being apathetic, sides with the oppressor. Those inactions side with the killer. My brother was murdered; died by guns. My aunt was murdered; died by guns.  A bunch of my cousins were murdered; died by guns. I’m sick of people everywhere, dying by guns. It doesn’t make sense to me that anybody can go by a gun. I mean, it’s just super simple. So I didn’t come here to speak. I came here just to support. This is about the kids. I’m listening to what they have to say. Because if we can’t protect our children? Now, let me be clear. I’m a mom. So I understand. I was on the school board. I was always around kids. But one of the reasons I think that children are apathetic and they don’t go vote when they become adults, is because we don’t protect them and they don’t see where we support them. So, perhaps some of these kids will see that there are grownups who are elected, who will stand and just support you, sit down, be your ally…  I didn’t leave when Beto left, even though a whole bunch of people left when Beto left. And so I’m concerned that people are selectively supporting bans on guns because they are discriminating against some victims by not supporting them, and only supporting certain victims. (Jolanda Jones, Texas State Representative)

I saw the tragic events that happened in Uvalde earlier this week and something needs to be done. I’m the president of 46,000 students of the University of Houston, and we cannot stand by while our children our children are continued to be murdered within our school. So we have to do something about it. (Joshua Martin, UH SGA president)

That’s part of my job to be here, to know what’s going. I am the accountability chair for the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats of Montgomery County. We hold those politicians accountable. When you have a state representative when Ercot happens and the freeze kills, not Black people, not white people, but people. That freeze did not come and say, “Oh, are you a Republican or Democrat” first. It killed people young and old, and in-between. Marginalized people. Then you take your family and you decide that you’re going to go to Cancun? Here again, with the shooting; with these kids in Uvalde, TX. These are babies. I have a grand baby that is six years old. I have a daughter that’s 15 and one that’s 13. Those could have been my babies. Ted Cruz wants to go back to point to, “Oh, it’s mental health issues.” Nah. No. It’s the laws. Because you have to be 21 or turning 21 when you want to become a police officer. Before you are sworn in, you have to have made 21. To buy alcohol you have to be 21. But to 18 to buy a gun, what sense does that make? (Angela Johnson, accountability chair for the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats of Montgomery County)

20-year NRA member Bill Pepper speaks to the Defender just outside the George R. Brown Convention Center. Photo by Aswad Walker.

Well, I’m not a spokesperson for the NRA. So, I can’t really answer that question, but I would imagine that the feeling that runs through the NRA is that the core reason for those mass murders has very little to do with the weapon that is used. The core reason for those murders is that we’re a different society than we used to be. And in fact, we’re much more dangerous society, and we need to learn how to get a handle, and to identify those who are the most dangerous in our society rather than trying to penalize the general public, who are responsible citizens or gun owners. (Bill Pepper, NRA member for 20 years)

THOUGHTS & PRAYERS

This really has been a defining moment. Like, over the last three or four years, from Sandy Hook up until now, like, “God, what do you want me to do?” I’m a believer in Jesus Christ. I’m an intercessor. But, I know when God calls us. When moments like this happen, we don’t just pray. We pray, but God calls us to action. And to me, this is my first step of doing something more. I came here to gather with other believers, and I don’t know if they’re all believers. But that doesn’t matter. We have a common goal, and that is we are tired of seeing our children being gunned down. Enough. So, we’ve got to do something. Not on our watch. We cannot be okay with this here. It doesn’t matter what faith you are, what color you are. I don’t really care. But the focus is about our children. (Adryan Billups, faith community member)

Adryan Billups and Taria Page along with other NRA protesters at Discovery Green on May 27, 2022. Photo by Aswad Walker.

I know I need to be doing more than merely giving thoughts and prayers, so, yes, others need to do more, as well. It’s a combination of things. It’s not just one thing that we’re going to do. And we would hope that the church would come to that realization, as well. “Yes, we’re gonna pray. But we’re gonna get out and let our voices be heard in different ways.” (Taria Page, faith community member)

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

We need lawmakers who are going to get these gun laws changed. And I’m not trying to take away anybody’s 2nd Amendment rights or their guns. But you don’t need an assault rifle to protect your home and yourself. That’s unacceptable. So we need lawmakers who are not being bought up by the NRA or any other entity. And we need laws change. There’s other issues around mental health. There’s a gamut. But this number one issue is these laws about guns. (Adryan Billups, faith community member)

The time is now for gun reform, gun legislation reform. This is the only country in the world where [mass shootings] happens. Yes, we absolutely have a mental health issue in this country. That needs to be addressed, as well. But there are individuals who are bearing arms, wartime arms at that. And human beings, innocent human beings are being slaughtered. (Eulalia Gillum, concerned parent)

SPEAKER EXCERPTS

I ask all of you young people out there, this is the election to get involved in. This is the time. Our lives are literally on the line. I spent my entire life in elementary schools holed up in classes preparing for that dreadful moment, and I don’t want my kids to have to experience that 10-years from now. This has to change, and it’s well past time that it does. (Cierra, co-director, Youth for Beto)

Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke speaking to attendees at the May 27, 2022 NRA protest held at Discovery Green. Photo by Jimmie Aggison.

To attendees at the NRA Convention across the street, you are not our enemies. We are not yours. We extend our hand, 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. Those who will be the victims of the next mass shooting unless we act are counting on us at this moment. So, please join us now or be left behind. To the leadership of the NRA, and to those politicians that you have purchased, to those men and women in positions of power who care more about your power than using that power to save the lives of those that you are suppose to serve, if you have done anything good it is the fact that you have brought us here together, and that we are committing ourselves to act. We will defeat you and we will overcome you and we will leave you behind. And finally, to those who are here, and to those who are watching from home right now, we are counting on each other. Our kids are counting on us. Our descendants are looking back on this moment from the future to see if we are going to stand and fight for them or leave them to be slaughtered. We cannot be found wanting. (Beto O’Rourke, gubernatorial candidate)

Children matter. Black children matter, Brown children matter, just like these white babies matter. My babies matter… My babies matter so much to me I’ll hold your f**king governor hostage. So, if you came out to hear Beto and you’re done, guess what, I’m f**king done with you. I’m not playing with you today. Do you understand what I mean when I say, “White woman, if it only matters if these kids are getting shot at school, but you don’t give a damn about my little Black boy getting shot by a f**king cop, I will hold your governor hostage. You think Governor Abbott is a problem? How many more Black mothers do you think are going to let our babies die. (Kandice Webber, Black Lives Matter)

Alexandria King, Ashton P. Woods, Cierra and Kandice Webber speak to attendees at the NRA protest at Discovery Green on May 27, 2022. Photo by Aswad Walker.

I am angry and I am tired of seeing this happen in my communities. I’m tired of remembering more mass shootings than I do birthdays. I’m tired of having to watch little babies get up here to fight for their right to live in the heat when they should be going to school, when they should be enjoying their summers. They shouldn’t be here. And I’m tired of it. More importantly, I am sick and tired of the leadership in this state and this nation who will allow this to happen time and time again. Leaders like Gov. Greg Abbott, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump; Cruz and Trump who are in that building right now <pointing to the GRB> who have failed us as leaders because they refuse to do anything on the national or state level. Vote them out. (Alexandria King, co-director Youth for Beto)

High schooler Taran Hozack speaks to attendees at the NRA protest at Discovery Green on May 27, 2022. Photo by Aswad Walker.

Is it too much to ask that when I go to school, my first priority be what I’m going to learn rather than if I’ll get shot? This year, there’ve been over 200 mass shootings in the U.S., and people like Greg Abbott are too busy trying to put bans on our bodies rather than protect the Texans already alive. Schools are supposed to be safe havens and environments where children can thrive, but instead, they’ve been turned into killing grounds. This is a time when we should be celebrating making it through another school year, but instead, we’re mourning the 21 lives lost at Robb Elementary. That’s unacceptable. When will current Texas politicians like Ted Cruz or Greg Abbott recognize that innocent lives are more important than their guns? How many more people have to die before they realize these mass shootings will continue to happen unless they pass safer gun laws? How many more families are they going to put through this hell?  Especially as someone who isn’t old enough to vote yet, I need government officials who will put the people first. Plenty of GOP politicians have argued that this isn’t a time to talk about policy issues, and I disagree. Not only is this a policy issue, but it’s a life and death issue. Greg Abbott, Ted Cruz and others, you are not representing the people, you’re hurting them. The fact that I have to stand up here as a 16-yr-old student and fight for my safety in school is appalling, but I’m not going to back down… Thoughts and prayers don’t stop bullets. Gun laws do. (Taran Hozack, rising high school senior)

Joshua Martin, UH SGA president, speaks to attendees at the NRA protest at Discovery Green on May 27, 2022. Photo by Aswad Walker.

I think that we need to make one thing very clear. Texas, come November, we have a pretty big decision to make. A decision that’s going to decide the trajectory of this state for the next four years… What kind of state do you want this state to become in the next four years? Gov. Abbott seems to blame everything that’s going on on the mental health crisis, like he thinks that we’re foolish enough to actually believe that mental health is only a problem in the United States. Just three years ago, Gov. Abbott signed a $210 million bill that was supposed to go to the safety of our schools. So, that makes me ask the following question. Why did Gov. Abbott not make sure that that funding go to our schools? He called not one, not two, but three special sessions to take away our polling places. He was quick to that $250 million to audit the 2020 election at the request of Pres. Trump. He was quick to spend that $1 billion building 900 feet of border wall. But when it comes to the safety of our children, it’s been three years and we haven’t seen any of that funding. My friends, we must take the polls in November like no one has ever seen before. Because frankly, I’m sick of it. You’re sick of it. The people of Texas are sick of it. And don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for yourself. Do it for the 19 children who will never have the opportunity to vote this governor out of office. Be bold. Be strong. And together, we will rise up to turn Texas blue. (Joshua Martin, UH SGA president)