National Rifle Association speakers bullish after defeat of Obama gun regulation bill

Gun group’s annual meeting, attended by 70,000, hears passionate speeches on preservation of ‘freedom’

Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the NRA, speaking  at the association’s annual meeting in Houston, Texas. Photograph: Reuters/Adrees Latif

Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the NRA, speaking at the association’s annual meeting in Houston, Texas. Photograph: Reuters/Adrees Latif

 

A voice booms over a PA system calling people to buy a ticket in the “Wall of Guns” raffle. The wall on the first floor of the sprawling George R Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston is thronged.

Attendees at the National Rifle Association’s three-day annual meeting in Texas are drawn to the attraction by the continuous announcements that are hard to miss. An assortment of guns is up for grabs at the auction on Saturday, from small pistols to large semi-automatic weapons.


Hollywood firepower
There is even a musket used by the late Hollywood star Charlton Heston, a former president of the NRA, in one of his movies along with a photograph of him holding the gun in costume.

A raffle ticket costs $20. If you win, you get to pick two guns of your choice from the wall. Asked if the winner must undergo a background check, one of the raffle organisers says they do but even if they fail the check, they will be awarded the cash equivalent of the guns, trying his best to encourage a ticket purchase.

The raffle is one of 550 stands at the NRA’s 142nd annual meeting, which ended yesterday, where attendees peruse stands of new guns and hunting paraphernalia displayed by manufacturers.

About 70,000 gun enthusiasts attended the meeting, fresh from a major lobbying win for the NRA when a bill to extend background checks to firearms purchases at gun shows was defeated in the Senate by six votes last month.

Wayne LaPierre, chief executive and public face of the powerful pro-gun lobby group, told members in a fiery speech attacking President Obama, anti-gun elitists and the national media on Saturday that the vote was “but one skirmish in what can only defined as a long war against our constitutional rights”.

The NRA is resisting Mr Obama’s push to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and to introduce universal background checks, saying the president’s proposals are an attack on America’s second amendment constitutional right to bear arms.

At the meeting that was part victory lap for last month’s vote and part rallying call for further action, incoming NRA president James Porter characterised members as freedom fighters in a “culture war”.

Mr LaPierre claimed gun control advocates had exploited gun tragedies such as the gun massacre at Sandy Hook, where 20 children were killed at a Connecticut primary school in December, “to try to shame us into compromising our freedom for their political agenda”.

“We will never surrender our guns – never,” he said to cheers from members.

Supporters of tighter gun controls held protests in Houston, claiming the NRA was scaremongering so the organisation would benefit from members continuing to buy guns.

Gun owners claimed that there was much more at stake than the second amendment, arguing that the country’s constitutional foundation and their individual rights were under threat.

“We are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation fight for everything we care about. We have a chance to secure our freedom for a generation, or to lose it forever,” Mr LaPierre told NRA members.


Boston lockdown
In his most controversial remarks, he asked: “How many Bostonians wished they had a gun two weeks ago?” referring to the virtual lockdown of Boston as police pursued the Boston bombing suspects.

There were “frightened citizens, sheltered in places, with no means to defend themselves”, he said.

It was the first time the NRA publicly linked the Boston bombings to guns, showing that no topic, however sensitive, is off limits in this raging battle to stop changes to America’s gun ownership laws.