NRA Convention: Group Faces New Pressure And Anger After Parkland Shooting While leaders insist that more gun control will not stop the carnage seen in Parkland, Fla. and other shootings, some acknowledge a shift in the way the country is talking about firearms.

NRA Rallies Members In Dallas, Facing New Pressure And Anger

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Both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will go to Dallas on Friday for the NRA's annual convention. On one hand, the president's presence shows that the NRA has staying power. But the organization has also faced fresh anger after the Parkland high school shooting in Florida and the student-led protests that followed that. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports on how the NRA is responding to this moment.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: In the months before Parkland, the NRA sounded confident, even fierce, blasting critics who want some firearms restricted or even banned.


DANA LOESCH: They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler.

MANN: NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch appeared in a controversial ad that went viral accusing the NRA's opponents of spreading chaos and lies.


LOESCH: The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.

MANN: With the NRA's Republican allies controlling Congress and many state legislatures, gun control was off the table. Then came Parkland. Fred Guttenberg lost his daughter, Jamie.


FRED GUTTENBERG: I sent her to school yesterday. She was supposed to be safe. What is unfathomable is Jamie took a bullet and is dead.

MANN: A gunman used a semi-automatic rifle to murder 17 people, wounding many more. The NRA faced a wave of criticism from charismatic students, survivors of the attack, including Emma Gonzalez.


EMMA GONZALEZ: To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.


MANN: Suddenly, even President Trump, a close NRA ally, was publicly challenging the organization. In a White House meeting with members of Congress, he accused lawmakers of being afraid of the NRA.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They do have great power. I agree with it. They have great power over you people. They have less power over me.

MANN: Trump called for a comprehensive bill tightening gun laws, but the NRA flexed its power. After a private meeting with NRA leaders, Trump pulled back. And since then, Congress hasn't acted. But at the state level, it's a different story.


RICK SCOTT: The hardest thing I've ever had to do as governor is try to find the words to console a parent who lost their child.

MANN: Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott normally sees eye to eye with the NRA. In March, he and the Republican-controlled Legislature defied the organization, approving tough new gun measures. Despite NRA opposition, at least seven states, including Oregon and Vermont, passed new gun laws after Parkland, often with support from Republican leaders.

KRIS BROWN: I think that is a really important shift.

MANN: Kris Brown is co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that supports tighter gun laws. She says the NRA lost ground after Parkland, fumbling control of the conversation, failing to adapt to a new national mood.

BROWN: The NRA has come out of Parkland - and indeed, when we look at the last year with three of the deadliest mass shootings in American history, the NRA has been tone-deaf.

MANN: Brown points to surveys showing that most gun owners and many NRA members support creating a stronger system of background checks for gun buyers. But NRA board member Tom King from New York disagrees. He says even after Parkland, the NRA stands by its argument that guns aren't the real issue. He believes the focus now should be on other things, including more security in schools.

TOM KING: Until we talk about the core issues - getting people jobs, getting the criminals off the streets, stopping the drug trade - we are going to be a dangerous country.

MANN: The NRA remains a dominant force politically. And donations to the organization from members actually surged after Parkland. But speaking with NPR, King acknowledged there was a shift after Parkland in the way the country is talking about firearms.

KING: Of course. It has increased the probability in some states of legislators passing more meaningless legislation. That's going to happen. It already has happened, OK? But has it eroded the NRA's position? I don't think so.

MANN: A big question in Dallas is how the NRA leadership navigates this moment, this less-certain climate. Will the group find new ways to tell its story to a country shaken by Parkland? Will there be a different conversation among rank-and-file gun owners about firearm safety? Protesters, including student activists, are expected to make their voices heard outside. Brian Mann, NPR News.


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