DALLAS – The auditorium at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, where the 147th NRA convention is headquartered, holds about 10,000 seats. There are none available for today’s Leadership Forum, where President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are scheduled to speak.
“We are honored to celebrate American freedom with Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others,” said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, the political and lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association, when announcing Trump’s appearance. Pence already had been slated to address the group; the president’s appearance was announced only a few days ago.
An estimated 80,000 people are expected to attend the event, officially called the National Rifle Association Annual Meetings and Exhibits, which is going on through Sunday. Casey Price of Cartersville is one of them. He comes from a family of NRA members and, at 18, is excited to join, too.
“Freedom,” is what he prizes about the National Rife Association. “It’s getting together with people who aren’t going to judge you for what you have or what you want to buy.”
He and Ian Bledsoe, also of Cartersville, are here working for Optic Force, which sells sights, stocks and other accessories. They’ve worked other gun shows, but nothing compares to this one, Bledsoe said.
“It’s massive,” he said. “A lot of cool things to see.”
Richard Maunder, here from New Forest in southern England, is attending his fifth NRA convention.
“I’ve met so many nice people,” he said. A veteran of the British Army who was in the Royal Air Force Cadets as a youth, his familiarity with firearms started young. His father was in the British Forestry Commission, whose agents would occasionally have to put down a deer that had been hit by cars and couldn’t be saved.
Gun laws in the United Kingdom differ from those here, he noted.
“You can’t own a handgun unless you have a special permit. You have to pass a background check. They check with your doctor to see if you’re on antidepressants or anything. You don’t do that here,” he said, pausing for a moment before adding, “The shooting in Florida could have been prevented.”
He was referring to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead and more wounded. Suspect Nikolas Cruz had a history of troubling behavior. The Florida Department of Children and Families labeled him “a vulnerable adult due to mental illness” and he had been transferred to an alternative school for students with emotional and behavioral problems.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was among the shooting victims, will join protesters including actress Alyssa Milano, who plan a Saturday demonstration about a mile from the NRA convention site.