HOUSTON, TEXAS— More than 70,000 people attended the annual convention of the National Rifle Association, or NRA in Houston this weekend to conduct organizational business, listen to speeches and get a look at some of the latest products offered by gun manufacturers. Resistance to recent proposals to limit access to guns was the focus of the event.
NRA members came from all over the country to rally for the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is under threat, according to NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. "We will never back away from our resolve to defend our rights and the rights of all law-abiding gun owners," he said.
This convention comes only weeks after the U.S. Congress rejected a gun control bill prompted by last December's school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that claimed the lives of 20 small children and six adults.
NRA pressure on lawmakers played a role in defeating the bill, and so did Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz. “If you are a violent criminal, we should come down on you like a ton of bricks and, at the same time, we should safeguard the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens," he said.
Most of the more than 70,000 people here for this convention support the NRA leadership in opposing almost all forms of gun control.
Steve, who came here from the northwestern U.S. state of Washington, fears that expanded background checks could eventually lead to confiscation of all firearms. "They want to register all the guns. They want to know who's got them and in every country that has done that, what has been the natural outcome," he said.
Steve also opposes a ban on so-called assault weapons, which include semi-automatic rifles popular with target shooters. "By demonizing these guns, they are scaring the population into accepting giving up more of their freedom," he said.
But even here there are people like Ramona who favor enhanced background checks. "I think it is essential to have background checks. I don't think there is any harm in doing them and I think it will help with the enforcement," she said.
Recent polls have shown many of the NRA's five million members think like Ramona.
That some of them might help promote measures to reduce gun violence is the hope of Erica Lafferty, daughter of a Newtown victim.
"The most recent polling I have seen showed that 74 percent of NRA members do support the universal background checks; it seems like their leadership is way more right," she said.
Part of the problem is a deep cultural divide between Americans who learn at an early age to use guns for hunting and target practice, and those who see the proliferation of guns as a threat to their children and society at large.