Gun Owners, Activists Descend On Houston For NRA Convention

Melissa Block speaks with Wade Goodwyn, who is at the National Rifle Association convention in Houston.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

And we begin this hour in Houston, where more than 70,000 people are expected at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting, which got underway today. There are hundreds of vendors and acres of displays of guns, ammo and every kind of hunting and shooting gear. But it's politics and the recent defeat of gun control legislation in the Senate that is in the spotlight. And NRA leader Wayne LaPierre struck a defiant tone in his remarks this afternoon.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Let me make this perfectly clear. We will never back away from our resolve to defend our rights and the rights of all law-abiding American gun owners.

BLOCK: NPR's Wade Goodwyn is at the convention in Houston, and he joins me now. And, Wade, we were just hearing from Wayne LaPierre there. Does his tone match the tone of the folks you've talked to there at the convention?

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: I think that's safe to say. On the other hand, there's going to be thousands who flow through here over the next few days, so not everybody is in lockstep. There's a range of opinions on issues like background checks, large-capacity ammunition magazines and assault rifles.

But there's also a large body of people who feel that their Second Amendment rights are under attack, like T.J. Scott(ph). I talked to him this afternoon. He's a computer programmer from Austin and a longtime NRA member.

T.J. SCOTT: The left-wing liberals are going to continue to try to take our guns away, OK? I truly believe that if it was up to Obama, it would be just like Chicago. We would not have the right to keep and bear arms.

GOODWYN: T.J. and many others here believe that there's a crisis in this country, that religious freedoms are being threatened, that their right to bear arms is under attack and that their traditional way of life is going away, and the re-election of President Obama was evidence enough for them.

BLOCK: Wade, I mentioned all the vendors and displays there in Houston. What have you seen? What's caught your eye?

GOODWYN: Well, if you've never been to an NRA convention, it's amazing and fascinating. As you walk around, you realize this is a culture. It's a way of life. There's every kind of weapon imaginable, but there's also scopes, high-powered binoculars, clothes, display cases, ammunition the size of your hand and silencers. I did a double take on that one. But as the big sign said, silencing is not a crime, at least in some states. You can drop several thousand dollars in an hour, no sweat.

BLOCK: Well, there are also protests that are taking place outside the convention center there in Houston. And in a park across the street, I gather, protesters are reading the names of gun violence victims around the clock. Let's take a listen.

HEATHER ROSS: Lamont Wise(ph), age 54, killed by gunshot in Flower Mound, Texas.

BLOCK: Wade, who are these protesters?

GOODWYN: Well, you just heard Heather Ross(ph). She's a 27-year-old activist from Austin, and she and her colleagues are standing out in front of the convention center, reading the names of those killed by guns 24 hours a day. And I asked her if watching thousands of NRA members streaming into the convention center was discouraging.

ROSS: It's an opportunity for people to hear these names and communicate with the leadership that's going to be here and say, you know, hey, what are you doing? You know, we support background checks. Why don't you?

GOODWYN: Heather believes that many of those attending the convention do support background checks, and she's trying to reach some of them. If you're up against the political power of the NRA, you have to have patience. But they're mostly young people, and if they're discouraged, they're not showing it.

BLOCK: OK. That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn at the National Rifle Association annual meeting in Houston. Wade, thanks so much.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.

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