At NRA convention, some love the politics; others just like guns | News


INDIANAPOLIS — Martha Mathieu got flipped off and occasionally cussed at Friday afternoon as she drove a van around the National Rifle Association’s convention in downtown Indianapolis.

Digital screens on the van displayed messages like “NRA execs are celebrating. Kids are dying.” Another display read, “The NRA protects its leaders, not your rights.”

Mathieu said she just drives the van. The messages were paid for by Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun-violence prevention organization.

But even as someone whose job just happened to take her to the Indiana Convention Center packed with about 70,000 gun enthusiasts, Mathieu sympathized with both sides of the issue — the one on her van, and the one being preached inside.

On the one hand, she said, people should be able to have a weapon to defend themselves and their homes. On the other, she noted, it doesn’t seem right that an 18-year-old with no gun training can buy an assault rifle or other deadly weapon.

“Instead of just being so combative with each other, we just need to sit at a roundtable and talk about what we can really make happen,” Mathieu said. “If we don’t come together as one, it’s never going to happen.”

But that wasn’t the message coming from inside the convention center, where a slate of some of the Republic Party’s highest profile officials gathered Friday afternoon to advocate for fewer gun restrictions and garner the favor of the NRA, one of the most powerful lobby groups in Washington. The convention is scheduled to continue through Sunday.

NRA Convention Pence

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks during at the National Rifle Association Convention, Friday, April 14, 2023, in Indianapolis.

Former U.S. Vice President and Indiana Governor Mike Pence told the crowd, “We don’t need gun control, we need crime control.” South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott thanked the NRA for supporting his Senate campaign and noted that he has an “A” rating from the group.

David and Susie Metzler said hearing those speakers was one of the main reasons they traveled Friday morning from their home near Rockford, Illinois, to Indianapolis. The couple has missed only one NRA convention in the past eight years.

The two most looked forward to hearing from former President Donald Trump, the event headliner. Trump also spoke at the 2015 NRA convention in Indianapolis after announcing his run for president. That speech convinced the Metzlers that Trump was the man for the job.

“It was very electric,” Susie Metzler said. “Because he was live, it was like going to a concert.”

“We never had anything good to say about Donald Trump before we came here,” David Metzler said. “But he promised people he would do things, and he did them.”

During his speech Friday, Trump blasted President Joe Biden’s gun-control agenda as “part and parcel of the left-wing crusade to weaponize government against law-abiding citizens while letting criminals run free.”

NRA Convention

Attendees to the National Rifle Association Convention recite the Pledge of Allegiance before the start of speeches in Indianapolis, Friday, April 14, 2023.

But Rob Jenkins wasn’t too interested in the politics of the convention. The North Carolina business owner and his 14-year-old son, Christian, both said they came mostly to check out the hordes of vendors selling rifles, holsters, bows, bullets and anything else related to the firearms industry.

It was mostly Christian who wanted to attend the event. He said he was specifically on the lookout for a 9-mm SIG M18, the official U.S. military service pistol available for civilian use.

That led the whole family to make the trip to Indianapolis to attend an NRA convention for the first time.

Although Rob Jenkins didn’t care much about the politicians Friday, he did support their efforts to promote gun rights.

“Somebody has to take a position because there’s definitely a threat out there,” he said. “If we don’t stand up against that threat, they probably would come take our guns.”

That was Illinois resident David Metzler’s worry, too. Illinois state lawmakers in January approved new bans on the sale and manufacture of a long list of firearms defined as “assault weapons,” as well as large-capacity magazines. A legal challenge to the ban is now being decided by the state’s supreme court.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, who is running for Indiana governor, leaned into that fear in his speech at the convention, highlighting a bill he introduced that would prevent a president from declaring a national emergency to impose gun control.

“I’ve met all kinds of Hoosiers who are worried about their Second Amendment rights being taken away,” Braun said. “These days, the conversations in DC are about ending private gun ownership as we know it.”

The Indiana Democratic Party blasted that kind of rhetoric leading up to the convention, saying the NRA and GOP have put a stranglehold on any meaningful federal or state gun legislation. The party called that “shameful” in light of Monday’s mass shooting in Louisville that left six dead.

“Rather than find solutions that focus on responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the wrong hands, the NRA and the Republican politicians that prop it up have repeatedly failed to take any sort of action to curb the mass violence and destruction unfolding across our country,” the state party said in an release.

But Illinois resident Susie Metzler, echoing the sentiment of the convention, said adding more restrictions on who can own what kinds of guns won’t solve anything. She repeated the age-old, pro-gun adage: Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

“If the bad guy wants a gun, he’ll get a gun whether it’s legal or not,” she said. “The person is bad. That person wants to do something bad. That’s what you have to stop.”

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