“Clearly, we need to make it far easier to confine the violent and mentally deranged into mental institutions,” he said.
Trump was joined at the NRA’s 151st annual meeting by Texas Senator Ted Cruz and South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, both whom are also financial beneficiaries of the powerful lobby group.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott was due to speak at the event but pulled out at the last minute, opting instead to stay in Uvalde as families continued to grieve in the aftermath of Tuesday’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.
Republican politicians John Cornyn and Dan Crenshaw also withdrew, citing “scheduling conflicts”, while numerous musicians pulled out as well, included American Pie singer-songwriter Don McLean, who said it would be “disrespectful and hurtful” to perform so soon after the tragedy.
The NRA is the largest and most powerful gun rights group in the US, financially backing politicians who oppose gun control legislation.
But Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde has renewed the debate over the right to bear arms in America, and prompted hundreds of people to converge outside the convention centre today to protest against the three-day event.
Among them was a young woman holding up a sign that said: No More Thoughts and Prayers. Take Action!
“I have two children in elementary school,” said the woman, who gave her name only as Leyna. “I don’t want to send my babies to school wondering if they’re going to die.”
A few metres down the road, Gilbert Garcia from the League of United Latin American Citizens shared similar concerns, flanked by protesters holding placards and crosses with photos of the victims from Tuesday’s tragedy.
“I grew up in a home with guns, which is my right,” he said. “But in the state of Texas we have more people killed by guns than any other state in America. Something’s wrong.”
Inside, however, attendees from all ages and backgrounds proudly defended the Second Amendment. The convention centre in downtown Houston was a gun-lovers dream: row after row of the latest guns, artillery and gear, and conference rooms packed with aptly titled seminars: “Reloading Like A Master”; “Bullet Proof Mind for the Armed Citizen”; “Draw Time: What’s Fast or Fast Enough.”
Asked about the latest gun debate, one man, Michael Rivera, who had been lining up since 7.45am to see Trump speak this afternoon, said he didn’t want to see the US “turning into Australia” – a reference to the Howard Government’s decision to ban assault weapons in the aftermath of the Port Arthur Massacre.
“The guns protect us from the government, and the Second Amendment protects freedom of speech,” he said. [The First Amendment protests freedom of speech]
Another man, John, who did not want his surname used, said he believed the “evil” of mass shootings came down to young people with mental health problems. So should there be more background checks and mental health checks before gun licenses are issued, I ask?
“How could we do that?” he replies, with a strong southern accent. “Unless you have a list of everybody who’s had psychiatric treatment – but that would be breaching their privacy rights. Or if you put a paper form in front of a kid, what’s stopping him from simply saying: ‘No I don’t have a mental health problem’. It just wouldn’t work.”
Back in the General Assembly room, Trump is letting rip. After pro-gun speeches from Noem, Cruz and NRA boss Wayne LaPierre, the former president begins his address by reading the names of the 19 children and two teachers who died at Robb Elementary, but quickly pivots to attacking the “cynical politicians” he says are “seeking to exploit the tears of sobbing parents to increase their own power and take away our Constitutional rights.”
“Every time a very disturbed or demented person commits such a hideous crime, there’s always a grotesque effort by some in our society to use the suffering of others to advance their own extreme political agenda,” he declares.
“More repulsive is the rush to shift blame away from the villains who commit acts of mass violence and place that blame on the law-abiding citizens of our nation such as our wonderful NRA.”
The crowd cheers feverishly. Once again, Trump showed up for his base – and didn’t disappoint.
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