NRA convention brings national gun debate to Texas

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on May 3, 2013 at 7:06 PM

Updated Friday, May 3 at 7:21 PM

AUSTIN -- Inside the sprawling George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, you can find just about everything gun related.

Hundreds of booths inside the exhibit hall featured everything from handguns to rifles, even NRA wine tours. The National Rifle Association (NRA) convention is drawing thousands of gun enthusiasts to Texas this weekend.

"You get see everything that's out there on the market right now," said John Lokos, who said he's preparing to buy his first handgun. "You just can't go to Dick's or Academy or Cabella's and get the atmosphere that you have here."

"This really is the Second Amendment at its finest," said NRA life member Rusty Tedrick.

While the exhibit hall offers a vast stage for manufacturers to show off their latest gun related gear, the underlying theme Friday dealt with politics.

After the bill to toughen background checks failed in the U.S. Senate, most attributed it to heavy lobbying by the NRA. Many of the NRA faithful at the convention Friday said they feel a real political battle underway.

"We all pretty much have the same concerns that our rights are being stripped away little by little," said Tedrick.

Meanwhile, the organization's biggest political allies took center stage. The list of scheduled speakers included former GOP running mate Sarah Palin and former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, as well as Texas' two most outspoken Republican leaders.

"We all have empathy for the families of those who lost loved ones. Everyone does," Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) told a packed auditorium Friday afternoon. "But the correct response to these tragedies is not another federal law that criminals will simply ignore anyway."

"The Obama administration has it backwards," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), speaking after Perry. "It doesn't prosecute the felons and fugitives. It doesn't prosecute the gun criminals. It doesn't put the resources there for school safety, but what does it want to do? It wants to restrict private sales between law-abiding citizens and go after the constitutional rights of the people who are complying with the law."

Just across the street from the convention center was a very different message. A demonstrator read of the names of victims of gun violence a handful of yards away from the main entrance.

Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse McCord Lewis was killed in the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, told KVUE he made the trip to Houston in order to push the NRA to again reconsider its stand against background checks.

"It's not about taking the Second Amendment or people's rights away. My son's rights were taken away. His life was taken away," said Heslin, who calls increased background checks a common sense measure that could save lives.

Inside the convention, viewpoints on that issue varied.

"I'm actually all for it personally," said Lokos. Fellow convention goer Mary Ann Ryan suggested more emphasis should be placed on mental health and making sure guns don't fall into the wrong hands.

"I don't mind gun background checks per se," said Ryan. "Except when it comes to registration or confiscating my firearm. They're not getting mine."

The convention will last through Sunday, but it's clear the debate over guns will last much, much longer.

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