On a blazing Friday afternoon in the heart of Houston stood children wearing images of the the Robb Elementary students killed by a gunman less than 72 hours prior. Right across the street—aptly named Avenida De Las Americas, Avenue of the Americas—the annual National NRA Convention took place as firearm enthusiasts attended pro-gun Republican political speeches and browsed firearm exhibitions and vendors. Over a thousand protesters demonstrating against the part trade show, part political rally, cheered wildly as Beto O’Rourke walked on stage. The Texas liberal sweetheart taking on Governor Abbott this fall in the governor’s race took his place in front of the children.
“You are not our enemies; we are not yours,” O’Rourke said, extending an olive branch toward the pro-gun crowd across the aptly named street. “We extend our hand open and unarmed in a gesture of peace and fellowship to welcome you to join us to make sure that this no longer happens in this country. But the time for you to respond and to join us is now.”
O’Rourke’s olive branch ran slightly counter to the anger and open grief expressed by the event’s opening speakers. Congressman Al Green (D-TX), sick with COVID, spoke to the crowd through speaker phone, promising to haunt the halls of Congress “until they pass gun control” if he loses his life to the virus. A Black Lives Matter organizer said both Governor Abbott and “Lt. Governor whatever his name is” have blood on their hands. A mother of a victim of gun violence weeped on stage as she shared the story of her son fighting for his life for 18 days in the hospital before passing.
“The time to have stopped Uvalde was right after Sandy Hook,” O’Rourke said. “The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Parkland. The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Santa Fe High School. The time for us to stop the next mass shooting in this country is right now, right here, today with every single one of us.”
As O’Rourke walked off stage to applause, many of the protesters began to make their way home or headed toward the barricades separating the NRA Convention from the demonstration. An organizer on stage fiercely lambasted the departing crowd as “fakes” for leaving once the Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate was done speaking although the crowd had been standing in the Texas heat for two hours listening to speaker after speaker. The organizer accused the departing crowd of only attending for an Instagram photo-op.
A couple dozen police on horseback stood guard in front of the convention entrance. Protesters hurled insults and held up middle fingers as convention-goers exited and made their way toward their cars.
Undeterred by the demonstrators or Tuesday’s school shooting, former President Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) spoke Friday to the pro-gun crowds. “Unlike some, I didn’t disappoint you by not showing up,” Trump began his remarks with. Governor Abbott canceled his appearance at the annual convention, opting to send in a pre-recorded speech. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) both canceled, citing conflicting schedules.
Trump gave a campaign-like speech. Before launching into his remarks against President Biden’s proposed gun law reforms, Trump held a moment of silence for the victims of Uvalde and condemned the shooter to the “fires of hell”. He read aloud the names of the 19 child victims of Uvalde, a bell ringing out after each name was said.
Trump reads the names of the Uvalde shooting victims, with a bell ringing after each of them pic.twitter.com/nDH8OoMj5N
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 27, 2022
The former President went on to urge for further prison-like security measures for America’s schools, such as single points of entry, round the clock armed officers, arming teachers, and implementing metal detectors. “If the United States has $40 billion to send to Ukraine, we should be able to do whatever it takes to keep our children safe at home,” Trump said. “We spent trillions in Iraq, trillions in Afghanistan, and got nothing. Before we nation-build the rest of the world, we should be building safe schools for our own children in our own nation. Right?”