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NRA Meeting in Houston Likely to Be Met With Protests After School Shooting

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 5/26/2022 Kriston Capps
The National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Indianapolis in 2019. This year’s gathering, set to be held in Houston on Memorial Day weekend, comes days after the second-worst school shooting in US history. © Bloomberg The National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Indianapolis in 2019. This year’s gathering, set to be held in Houston on Memorial Day weekend, comes days after the second-worst school shooting in US history.

(Bloomberg) -- As a hospice chaplain who served in two pediatric trauma hospitals, Teresa Kim Pecinovksy says that she will never forget witnessing the death of a child. Hearing a mother keening over her son or daughter isn’t a feeling she can articulate. “We don’t have a word in English to encapsulate the sound,” she says.

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When she learned about the May 24 elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas — which has claimed the lives of 19 children and 2 adults — Pecinovksy thought she would throw up. She is pregnant with her third child; a Houston resident and ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), she is geographically far from the scene, but it feels near to her as a Texan. She says she felt called to do something with the rage and indignation she feels. “As clergy, we should be at the forefront leading the way,” she says.

So Pecinovsky is organizing an interfaith demonstration on May 27 in downtown Houston to protest the presence of the National Rifle Association, which is hosting its annual meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center over Memorial Day weekend. She and Megan Hansen, a Presbyterian elder based in the Houston suburbs, are inviting dozens of followers from several different faiths — Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist — to pray outside the convention center before leading a silent march through the building during the convention.

A demonstrator with March for Our Lives, an anti-gun violence organization, speaks near the White House ahead of the State of the Union speech in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. President Biden will need to rediscover his foreign policy expertise and deft touch with everyday Americans, qualities that polls show many voters now doubt, in his first State of the Union speech as the U.S. and its allies step up pressure on Russia over Ukraine. © Bloomberg A demonstrator with March for Our Lives, an anti-gun violence organization, speaks near the White House ahead of the State of the Union speech in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. President Biden will need to rediscover his foreign policy expertise and deft touch with everyday Americans, qualities that polls show many voters now doubt, in his first State of the Union speech as the U.S. and its allies step up pressure on Russia over Ukraine.

“Christianity has helped lead us to this place and that is a tragedy,” says Hansen. “We should be leading away from the violence and individualism associated with guns.”

The interfaith protest is one of a number of actions planned for Friday, the day that former President Donald Trump, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and a host of other high-profile Republican leaders are scheduled to address the NRA convention. So far, Moms Demand Action, Indivisible Houston, Youth for Beto and the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter are organizing activities at the convention center and nearby Discovery Green, a prominent urban park that has hosted numerous demonstrations in recent years.

In Houston, the pro-gun convention and emerging counterprotests point to the growing tension between the conservative Texas state government and the progressive tilt of Houston leaders and residents. Like Dallas, Charlotte and other cities in the South and Midwest, Houston has subsidized the annual NRA meeting in the past by forgoing rent for the group in order to lure it to the city’s convention center. These subsidies can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars — an affront to residents who don’t share the group’s values, say local critics.


Video: What we know about the gunman in the Texas school shooting (cbc.ca)

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“Houston hasn’t been conservative for a very long time,” says Ashton P. Woods, founder and lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Houston. He says that the goals of the NRA run at odds with the city’s diverse and increasingly liberal population. “It seems they want to come into the backyards of people who vehemently disagree with them.”

The situation has echoes of the scene in Denver in 1999, when some 8,000 protesters greeted an NRA meeting that took place in Denver soon after the Columbine massacre. The city’s mayor pleaded with the group to call off the event; a secret recording of a conference call with NRA leaders showed that they worried about how to proceed. Ultimately, the scheduled three-day meeting was pared down, but not canceled, with then-NRA president Charlton Heston delivering a defiant message that targeted media coverage of gun violence.

The relationship between the NRA and some of its host cities was also strained in February 2018, when a 19-year-old opened fire on children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 14 students and 3 staff members. City leaders in host cities like Dallas and Kansas City questioned whether their cities should be subsidizing the NRA’s annual meeting, given the ubiquity of mass shootings in the US. Host cities sign contracts far in advance: Indianapolis, which hosted the NRA in 2019, made the agreement to reconvene the gun group for their 2023 meeting back in 2015. (The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.)

Even before the Uvalde tragedy, some Houston officials had expressed concerns about the NRA meeting, especially in the immediate aftermath of the racist attack in Buffalo, New York, on May 14 that left 10 people dead. Earlier on Tuesday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo held a press conference drawing attention to the county’s rising number of gun-related homicides in recent weeks. It was only 2018 when the greater Houston area suffered its own school massacre, at Santa Fe High School, in which 8 students and 2 teachers were killed.

The debate about who should shoulder the blame for school shootings in Texas hit a hard simmer on Wednesday. During a press conference, as Governor Abbott and other Texas Republican authorities disclaimed any responsibility for the tragedy, former congressman and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke interrupted the governor on stage from the audience. The conversation quickly spiraled into a shouting match. “You are offering up nothing. You said this was not predictable. This was totally predictable when you choose not to do anything,” Beto said.

Public anger over the Uvalde shooting could collide with other culture-war fronts bearing down on Houstonians, potentially driving large numbers of protesters on May 27, Woods says. Some 60,000 people turned out in Discovery Green in June 2020 during the mass gatherings over the police killing of George Floyd, triple what city officials expected at the time. Thousands attended a protest earlier this month to rally against a potentially imminent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Roe v. Wade as well as strict state laws limiting access to abortion. Demonstrators in Dallas and Austin have mobilized in large rallies this year to protest against bills and policies targeting transgender youths. “It’s more than just the assault weapons,” Woods says. “They’re front-loading all types of metaphorical guns.”

Pecinovsky and Hansen say they both feel concerned about their safety on Friday, although Hansen noted the irony that the Secret Service is forbidding attendees from carrying guns into the NRA convention, in defiance of the loose open-carry regulations for which the group advocates. Despite eight mass shootings in the state over the last 13 years, Texas lawmakers have steadily made it easier for residents to acquire weapons. Organizers expect to see stricter security due to the presence of Trump. A public information officer for the Houston Police Department wouldn’t say whether law enforcement planned to send out additional officers in light of the protests: “We never share our tactical operations plans but we are definitely aware of the situation.”

Houston First, a public-private partnership that operates Houston’s convention center, was in talks on Wednesday afternoon with the NRA to discuss the status of the event, according to a spokesperson. Canceling it entirely is out of the question, the spokesperson said, citing contractual agreements.

A spokesperson for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner did not comment about whether the mayor thought it was appropriate for the NRA meeting to continue as planned. But the mayor addressed this question at a city council meeting on Wednesday, KHOU reported, using the same language as the convention center operator.

“The convention has been on the books for more than two years,” Turner said. “It’s a contractual arrangement. We simply cannot cancel a conference or convention because we do not agree with the subject matter.”

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