National Rifle Association takes aim at Obama gun plan
Sarah Palin and other high-profile Republicans address annual meeting
Trying out a gun in a shooting game during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits at the George R Brown Convention Center yesterday in Houston, Texas. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The girl at the Starbucks coffee counter points to a spot a few metres away where the gunman opened fire at Houston International Airport at lunchtime on Thursday before turning the gun on himself.
“It can happen anywhere – a school, a gas station, a grocery store; you just never know,” she said, reluctant to say any more about the man who fired at least two shots into the ceiling before he fell.
Near the coffee shop an airport worker is photographing what appears to be a bullet-hole in the ceiling left by Cornell Marcus Moore (29) before he was confronted by an airport security guard who fired shots at the same time that Moore shot himself.
“I am a law-abiding citizen and I am subjected to a background check every time I buy a gun,” said the man, who declined to be named, noting that he had no problem with President Obama’s plan for universal background checks on all gun purchases, including about 40 per cent that go unvetted.
Proposal shot down
The airport shooting took place on the eve of the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful pro-gun lobby group that was instrumental in pushing US senators to vote down a proposal last month to extend background checks on all buyers of firearms, not just at gun shops.
More than 70,000 people are attending the NRA’s meeting in Houston, which opened yesterday and runs until tomorrow.
It is one of the biggest gun shows in the United States, as pro-gun supporters rally to attack President Obama’s gun ownership plans.
In a nod to the powerful political base among NRA members and gun-owners, the speakers at the meeting include high-profile Republicans including former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Texas governor Rick Perry, Texas senator Ted Cruz and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal.
Response to tragedies
Speaking to thousands of attendees yesterday afternoon Perry argued that the correct response to gun tragedies was “not another federal law that criminals will just ignore anyway”.
The problem was not with gun owners but with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, Perry said.
Cruz pointed a finger at Obama saying his home town of Chicago was the worst in the country for prosecuting gun crime. He lampooned vice-president Joe Biden, deriding his view that a double-barrelled shotgun was powerful enough for people to protect themselves.
“That is very useful if you are being attacked by a flock of geese,” he said.
About 550 exhibitors showed off weapons ranging from knives and handguns to rifles and military-style semi-automatic assault rifles in the George R Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston.
Tony Robertson from Sour Lake, Texas, is showing semi-automatic weapons to his sons Alex (17) and Dalton (13). The weapons include an ‘AR-15’ rifle, similar to the one carried by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which he used to kill 20 schoolchildren in December.
Robertson owns about 45 guns at his home. His sons play video games such as Call of Duty so they like to come to shows such as the NRA expo to hold guns like the semi-automatic rifles, he says.
“It’s part of our culture,” he said. “The second amendment right to bear arms protects the rest of our rights. Without the ability to stop tyranny, it would be like starting over.”
‘Not assault weapons’
Randy Hansen of the Illinois-based manufacturer Rock River Arms, who is managing the stand, says the AR1560 Advanced Tactical Hunter semi-automatic rifle is their most popular gun, costing about $1,370. The cheapest semi-automatic weapon on Hansen’s display retails for about $900.
“They are not assault weapons,” he said, taking issue with the term. “They are sporting rifles. Anything can be an assault weapon – a hammer is an assault weapon.”
Hansen’s company sells about $80 million worth of guns a year. It has enjoyed a boom in sales since last November’s election as customers feared Obama’s re-election would lead to tougher gun controls.
He now believes politicians in Washington are taking advantage of the Newtown massacre.
“They are trampling over the graves of those kids,” he said. “They are using that as a tool to push their agenda. If it was all so important, why did they let the assault rifle ban expire?”
James Smith walks through the exhibition with his wife, wheeling their three-year-old daughter in a buggy. His father gave him guns growing up. His daughter won’t shoot one until he feels she is mature enough, he says.
Smith believes gun ownership rights are constitutionally protected and should rest with individual states, not the federal government. The first amendment right to free speech could be next, he says.
“It’s a slippery slope,” he said. “Once they start eroding your second amendment rights, what’s to stop them going after other rights protected under the constitution?”