By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas May 2 Tens of thousands of
National Rifle Association members gather in Houston this
weekend for the first time since the U.S. Senate rejected a plan
to expand background checks for gun buyers, but NRA officials
said attendees would not sit back to celebrate victory.
"We view it as an opening battle in what will be a
multi-year war," said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the
NRA, which lobbied against the proposal. "We're definitely not
resting on our laurels."
Polls show more than 80 percent of Americans support
expanded background checks, but the proposal to extend
background checks for sales made online and at gun shows fell
six votes shy on April 17 of the 60 votes needed to clear a
procedural hurdle in the Senate.
The proposal, which supporters have vowed to revive, is a
key part of President Barack Obama's gun-control effort sparked
by the school shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
The vote was a sign of the influence of the gun rights
lobby, particularly the NRA, which spent $18.6 million in the
2012 campaign cycle, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The
NRA has more than 4 million members.
The NRA gathering in America's fourth most populous city,
which runs from Friday to Sunday, is billed as a celebration of
the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution setting out the
right to bear arms.
On Thursday, as thousands of NRA delegates were arriving for
the conference, a man sparked a panic at a busy Houston airport
terminal when he pulled out a gun and shot at the ceiling, then
either shot himself or was killed by a security officer who
The NRA event is expected to draw some 70,000 attendees who
can stroll 400,000 square feet (37,000 square metres) of
displays to see the latest products from firearm manufacturers
and hunting outfitters, check out wildlife art and shooting
accessories, or sign up for hunting trips around the world.
There will also be a "Stand and Fight Rally" with political
commentator Glenn Beck, a country music jam featuring the Eli
Young Band, and remarks from gun-rights advocates, including
former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Texas Governor Rick Perry
and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
The event will also draw protesters who plan to demonstrate
for more gun-control measures such as background checks.
Since last year's NRA annual meeting in St. Louis, a
national debate about gun laws has been reignited by the
December shooting at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School,
where 20 children and six adults were killed. States including
Connecticut, Colorado, Maryland and New York have since passed
gun-control laws, while Arkansas, Wyoming and South Dakota
loosened gun restrictions.
"Almost from the moment of the tragedy in Newtown, it became
apparent that the ensuing push for a wide variety of new
anti-gun laws had a lot less to do with school safety than it
did with a decades-long crusade to destroy the Second
Amendment," NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre wrote in an
opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle.
"NRA members exemplify everything that's good and right
about America," he wrote.
On Wednesday, Perry, the Texas governor, celebrated the
recent move to Texas from California of a company called Shield
Tactical, which sells firearm-related gear and training
services. Perry's office said the Republican governor had
reached out to more than 30 firearms manufacturers in states
that are considering curbing guns sales or manufacturing, urging
them to move to Texas.
The NRA's opponents are also gearing up for the Houston
event. The local chapter of a group called Moms Demand Action
for Gun Sense in America plans to demonstrate in support of
background-check legislation. Military veterans who disagree
with NRA positions on guns plan an "Occupy the NRA" event.
"The NRA leadership actively worked to block background
checks for gun sales, spreading lies about the Senate bill,"
Lauren Weiner, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Americans
United for Change, told reporters on Thursday. "The reality is
that the majority of gun owners do, in fact, support these
An online Reuters/Ipsos poll released in January showed that
86 percent of Americans surveyed favored expanded background
checks of all gun buyers. A CBS News/New York Times poll
released on Wednesday showed 88 percent of Americans supported
background checks for all gun buyers and that 59 percent were
disappointed or angry about the recent Senate vote on gun
State Representative Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat
whose district includes the convention center hosting the NRA
meeting, will not be among the Texas politicians at the event.
"Clearly, the sales and promotion of firearms is big
business," Coleman said. "This is business with politics as the