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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The National Rifle Association is holding its annual convention in Houston this weekend. More than 70,000 people are expected to attend for speeches and demos and acres of guns, ammo, camo gear; pretty much everything else related to guns. The NRA, of course, is coming off a major legislative victory, the defeat of gun control legislation in the U.S. Senate.

And while talk in the convention hall is about keeping up the fight and staying true to the constitution, there is a small protest against gun violence being held outside. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has our story from Houston.

HEATHER ROSS: Malcolm Xavier Jennings, age 21.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: It's a lonely vigil that the activists from No More Names keep outside the Houston Convention Center as they read the names of Americans killed by gunfire in the U.S. since the massacre at Sandy Hook.

ROSS: Anna Flores, age 24, killed by a gunshot.

GOODWYN: Heather Ross doesn't seem fazed by being ignored. What does faze her is how long it can take to read all the names of those killed in one day. Ross says some days can take 20 to 30 minutes.

ROSS: My older sister's birthday was January 23rd and I was just sitting there and it just got so heavy. You would just look at the whole list and it kept going and going and going and going, and you're doing my gosh, you know, it doesn't end.

GOODWYN: There could not be a greater disconnect between the young woman, raw with emotion, standing in the wind, and the thousands of people streaming by her eager to get inside to the NRA convention.

ROSS: If I read someone that's the same age as my little brother, I go, they're still the same age as my little brother. If I read someone that's one year's older, like not even quite one or has no name or no age at all, and so you sit there and say, no names, no age, and you just know where they died. That's horrible. Like, can you imagine if you died and no one knew, you know, who you were? They have no identity for you and they have no one to, and they pull people in to identify you and they just can't because you're so - your face is just gone and there's nothing.

GOODWYN: Inside the convention center, T.J. Scott sees life completely differently than Heather Ross. They're both from Austin, but he's 32 years older and there's not a gun too big for Scott.

T.J. SCOTT: As far as I'm concerned, if you can afford to buy a tank, you should be able to buy a tank. See, my belief is that the Second Amendment was put in not to hunt, not to go plink at cans, not to shoot at targets; if and when tyranny tries to take over our country, we can fight it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOODWYN: The NRA speakers Friday emphasized their belief that there are two Americas: the righteousness of the right and the decadence of the left. Texas senator Ted Cruz challenged Vice President Joe Biden to a debate on gun control.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: I would like to invite the vice president to engage in an hour-long conversation and debate, how do we stop crime?

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

GOODWYN: Sarah Palin also played a favorite conservative theme, American exceptionalism.

SARAH PALIN: This fight is about what kind of people we are. I want Trig to grow up in a country that is exceptional and is still strong and good and decent and free. So what keeps me optimistic, keeps us reloading in this fight is the faces that I see here today and the millions who are with us in spirit. How I love you guys.

GOODWYN: If Democrats are hoping they might win an overtime period in the battle of universal background checks, the NRA is here to tell them it's not going to happen. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Houston.

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