The scene inside the Georgia World Congress Center where NRA members await Trump

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AJC photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

A packed ballroom at the Georgia World Congress Center is awaiting the start of today’s keynote session, highlighted by an address from President Donald Trump. The schedule’s running a little behind; things were supposed to start at 12:45.

While they await President Trump, the crowd’s hearing from President Reagan, the last sitting president to address the National Rifle Assocation:

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Organizers expect 80,000 attendees to attend the146th NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits, as the gathering is officially called. It runs through Sunday at the Georgia World Congress Center. A full schedule and details on attending are online at home.nra.org.

Detractors have made plans to protest.

The groups Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the Everytown Survivor Network plan a Saturday protest in Woodruff Park and Betsy Riot, calling the NRA “gun lobby death merchants” whose only aim “is to lobby for firearm companies so they can peddle their weapons of war and drive the U.S. to the highest gun death rate of any developed country,” plans to hoist billboards and fly a banner around the downtown area while the event is going on.

“We are protesting this murder fantasy convention with mockery and anger and will continue our direct actions until the country is free from the grip of the violence-for-profit industry,” Betsy Riot said in a media release.

Angie Langley has the exact opposite impression of the NRA, having been a member for more than a decade.

“I don’t think anyone that’s a member of the NRA wants to see guns end up in the hands of someone who is a danger or threat to society,” said Langley, who is attending her second convention this weekend. “They do not get enough credit for gun safety.”

She lives in Orlando, Fla., and has two friends who died in the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting and a third who was injured. Shooter Omar Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during a mid-rampage 911 call, had legally purchased a Sig Sauer MCX rifle and Glock 17 handgun days before the attack. He held a firearms license, a concealed carry permit and had no criminal record. He passed background checks necessary for his job as a security guard. He died in a shootout with authorities.

“If someone has those intentions, they’re going to find a way to do it,” Langley said. “One of the biggest challenges in the country right now is mental illness. It’s tricky.”

A single mom, she has taken her 11-year-old to a firing range and has been diligent about making sure he learns gun safety: “He knows to respect the gun.”


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