The National Rifle Association begins its annual convention in Houston
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
A few hours east of Uvalde, in Houston, the National Rifle Association is holding its annual convention and gun show. The gun rights group is going ahead with its meeting three days after the mass shooting in Texas. Mass shootings are now common enough that it might be hard to hold the convention any other way. Back in 1999, the annual convention met in Denver shortly after the school shooting at nearby Columbine, and its approach to mass shootings today has only become more defiant than it was then. NPR's Tim Mak traveled to Houston for the meeting. He joined us with the latest.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: The NRA has expressed its deepest sympathies over the shooting and called it a horrific and evil crime. The NRA also said it would reflect on the shootings, but it wasn't really clear how. The group denies in general responsibility for mass shootings in America and says gun ownership in general also isn't to blame. That said, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has canceled his in-person appearance. He will still speak in a recorded video. Texas Senator John Cornyn and Congressman Dan Crenshaw have also backed out of the speaking activities today. But the NRA's messaging on mass shooting simply hasn't changed. Twenty years ago, after the Columbine shooting, the NRA was uncertain about whether it could hold the line on its view of the Second Amendment as America grieved for dead schoolchildren. But nowadays, unfortunately, mass shootings are a far more frequent event for which the NRA has a pretty established playbook. And so the NRA often argues that, for example, teachers should be armed or that the shootings, like the ones in Texas, are a byproduct of things like violent video games.
FADEL: Of course, experts say arming teachers is a bad idea. But let's talk about the financial and legal troubles of the NRA. How much is this jeopardizing the organization?
MAK: Well, the NRA is facing some very serious threats, among the most serious threats to its influence in the 150 years the organization has existed. There have been investigations by Congress and other officials, most notably New York Attorney General Letitia James. And they have revealed corruption at the very highest levels of the organization, public evidence that NRA's executives, including current CEO Wayne LaPierre, have spent tens of millions of dollars on private jets, lavish meals and sweetheart insider deals for those well-connected to senior officials. Now, this is all part of a lawsuit that the New York AG has brought against the NRA, one that continues and seeks sanctions against LaPierre and others at high levels in the organization. Now, some members of the NRA board have revolted as a result of these allegations. And there is a contingent of NRA members who are seeking accountability. They're looking for more transparency and a change in the NRA leadership.
FADEL: If this mismanagement has caused some members to lose faith in the NRA, how much power and influence does the group still have?
MAK: Well, the NRA has proven pretty resilient. You know, Wayne LaPierre is still the head of the organization, despite all of this evidence of mismanagement and misspending. One mistake people make is to think that the NRA has its power because of money. But the core of the NRA's power comes from its ability to mobilize millions of members at critical moments in the political process, moments like this, when some lawmakers want to pass new legislation. And it's this power that draws politicians to the NRA, politicians like Donald Trump, who's scheduled to speak today as protesters gather outside the convention hall. The Houston airport was jampacked last evening as thousands of people arrived in the city.
FADEL: NPR's Tim Mak in Houston. Thank you, Tim.
MAK: Thanks so much.
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