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May 28, 2022, 5:50 a.m. EDT

NRA speakers unshaken on gun rights after school massacre

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By Associated Press

One by one, they took the stage at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston and denounced the massacre of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school across the state. And one by one, they insisted that restricting access to firearms was not the answer to preventing future tragedies.

“The existence of evil in our world is not a reason to disarm law-abiding citizens,” said former President Donald Trump, who was among the Republicans who lined up to speak before the gun rights lobbying group Friday as thousands of protesters angry about gun violence demonstrated outside.

“The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens,” he said Friday.

The gathering came just three days after the shooting in Uvalde and as the nation grappled with revelations that students trapped inside a classroom with the gunman repeatedly called 911 during the attack — one pleading “Please send the police now” — as officers waited in the hallway for more than 45 minutes.

The NRA had said that convention attendees would “reflect on” the shooting at the event and “pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”

The meeting was the first for the troubled organization since 2019, following a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization has been trying to regroup following a period of serious legal and financial turmoil that included a failed bankruptcy effort, a class-action lawsuit and a fraud investigation by New York’s attorney general. Once among the most powerful political organizations in the country, the NRA has seen its influence wane following a significant drop in political spending.

Wayne LaPierre, the group’s embattled chief executive, opened the program with remarks bemoaning the “21 beautiful lives ruthlessly and indiscriminately extinguished by a criminal monster.” Still, he said that “restricting the fundamental human rights of law-abiding Americans to defend themselves is not the answer. It never has been.”

Later, several hundred people in the auditorium stood and bowed their heads in a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting. Several thousand people were inside the auditorium during the speeches, which appeared fewer than the number gathered outside. Many seats were empty.

Trump accused Democrats of trying to exploit the tragedy and demonizing gun owners.

“When Joe Biden blamed the gun lobby he was talking about Americans like you,” Trump said, referring to the president’s emotional plea in a national address asking, “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?”

Trump called for overhauling school security and the nation’s approach to mental health, telling the group every school building should have a single point of entry, strong exterior fencing, metal detectors and hardened classroom doors and every school should have a police officer or armed guard on duty at all times.

He also called yet again for trained teachers to be able to carry concealed weapons in the classroom.

He and other speakers overlooked the security upgrades that were already in place at the elementary school and did not stop the gunman, who entered the building through a back door that had been propped open.

According to a district safety plan, Uvalde schools have a wide range of safety measures in place. The district had four police officers and four support counselors, according to the plan, which appears to be dated from the 2019-20 school year. It also had software to monitor social media for threats and software to screen school visitors.

Security experts say the Uvalde case illustrates how fortifying schools can backfire. A lock on the classroom door, for instance — one of the most basic and widely recommended school safety measures — kept victims in and police out.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who, like Trump, is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024, railed against Democrats’ calls for universal background checks for gun purchases and bans of assault-style weapons and instead pointed to broken families, declining church attendance, social media bullying and video games as the real problems.

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