White House Republican hopefuls including Donald Trump descend on Indianapolis for annual NRA convention, highlighting American gun lobby’s continued political potency even as US reels from latest spate of mass shootings.
Top Republican hopefuls for the 2024 presidential race have vowed at the National Rifle Association’s [NRA] annual convention to defend the Second Amendment at all costs, suggesting that new firearms restrictions in the wake of mass shootings in the country would only hurt law-abiding gun owners.
The three-day gathering kicked off on Friday with thousands of the organisation’s most active members at Indianapolis’ convention centre mere days after mass shootings in Nashville and Louisville.
Last year’s NRA convention came just days after the massacre at a school in Uvalde, Texas.
It illustrated the stark reality that such shootings have become enough of the fabric of American life that the NRA can no longer schedule around them. Nor does it really want to: The convention falls on the second anniversary of the mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis that killed nine people.
And that certainly didn’t keep GOP White House hopefuls away, underscoring the political power of the NRA.
“Gun-hating politicians should never go to bed unafraid of what this association and all of our millions of members can do to their political careers,” said its CEO Wayne LaPierre.
Instead of fewer guns, former vice president Mike Pence called for more institutions for the mentally ill and federal funding for armed school officers.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis said he had resisted implementing any gun restrictions in his state despite that stance being unpopular.
Ex-president Donald Trump said that, as president, he saved the Second Amendment “from absolute obliteration,” crowning himself “the most pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment president” in the nation’s history.
Trump vowed to stop President Joe Biden’s “war on lawful gun owners.”
“I think that’s been acknowledged and with your support in 2024, I will be your loyal friend and fearless champion once again as the 47th President of the United States,” he said.
“When the radical left Democrats tried to use Covid to shut down gun sales during the China virus pandemic, I proudly designated gun and ammunition retailers as critical infrastructure,” he said.
Trump said Biden’s gun control agenda is “part and parcel of the left-wing crusade to weaponize government against law-abiding citizens while letting criminals run free.”
He said he revoked the US from the “globalist” United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, which he called a “disaster.”
“I never surrendered to the globalist left and I always put our term America first,” he said, adding he canceled former president Barack Obama’s “corrupt use of social security data to deny Americans their gun rights.”
Some speakers said they were saddened by the recent shootings, but also spent far more time slamming Biden administration policy along the US-Mexico border.
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A former Indiana governor, Pence, was met by scattered boos before his NRA speech, despite it being his home turf.
The former vice president skipped a number of conservative gatherings in recent years, including the Conservative Political Action Conference, as well as the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual gathering, after he was booed and heckled there in 2021.
Pence noted shootings at a Louisville, Kentucky, bank that killed five people this week and at a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 27 that killed three 9-year-olds and three staff members, but he said, ‘We don’t need gun control. We need crime control.”
“We don’t need lectures about the liberties of law-abiding citizens,” Pence said. “We need solutions to protect our kids.”
Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, a Trump critic who announced his 2024 campaign after news of the former president’s indictment broke, drew at least one yelled obscenity after he suggested President Joe Biden was “praying” for a rematch with Trump in 2024 and declared, “We don’t need a rerun of 2020.”
Others offering video messages were former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who began her 2024 campaign in February, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who announced a presidential exploratory committee this week.
Pain over the Louisville and Nashville shooting rampages has crossed party lines. Kentucky Democratic Governor Andy Beshear talked about having a friend killed in the Louisville shooting, while Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said he had friends killed during the Nashville school attack.
Yet the NRA convention’s tone was as defiant as last year, when the group held its convention in Houston just three days after the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school across Texas in the town of Uvalde.
Further overlapping with recent tragedy, Pence and some of the other speakers plan to follow up their NRA speeches by traveling to Nashville to meet with top GOP donors gathered there.
“Every significant national Republican, every Republican that’s thrown their hat in the ring to run for president, is showing up this weekend to pledge their undying loyalty to the NRA and the gun lobby,” said Democratic Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who championed bipartisan legislation that passed last year and imposed some new federal gun restrictions after the Uvalde shooting. “Our kids are being hunted, and the NRA’s business model is to give aid to the hunters.”
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Republicans’ support for guns
Indeed, support for gun rights among Republican voters remains higher than for voters overall.
Some 56 percent of voters in last fall’s midterm elections said they want to see stricter nationwide gun laws, compared with just 28 percent of Republicans, according to the AP news agency VoteCast, a wide-ranging survey of the electorate.
About half of Republicans said gun laws should be left as they are.
Trump, meanwhile, has a contradictory history on guns.
The NRA was a key backer of his 2016 campaign, spending some $30 million to support a candidate who sometimes mentioned carrying his own gun and vowed to eliminate gun-free zones in schools and on military bases.
Trump also pledged to establish a national right to carry.
But, as the country reeled from a series of mass shootings, Trump’s administration banned bump stocks, which were used in a 2017 attack on a Las Vegas country music concert that killed 60 people.
After the Parkland school shooting in Florida the following year, Trump urged congressional Republicans to expand background checks and proposed seizing guns from mentally ill people.
He also suggested raising the minimum age to buy assault rifles from 18 to 21, and suggested he was open to a conversation about reviving assault weapons bans.
After later meeting with the NRA, however, Trump abandoned his push, instead focusing on arming teachers and making schools more secure.
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Source: TRTWorld and agencies