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At NRA Convention, Dueling Narratives Displayed With Guns

An ammunition display at the NRA's annual convention in Houston on Friday.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
An ammunition display at the NRA's annual convention in Houston on Friday.

The National Rifle Association is holding its annual convention in Houston this weekend. More than 70,000 people are expected to attend for speeches and demos and acres of guns, ammo and camo.

The NRA is coming off of a major victory: the defeat of gun control legislation in the Senate. While the talk in the convention hall is about keeping up the fight and staying true to the Constitution, a small protest against gun violence is being held outside.

Gathering In Protest

It's a lonely vigil that the activists from No More Names keep outside the Houston Convention Center. They read the names of Americans killed by gunfire in the U.S. since the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

Heather Ross doesn't seem fazed by being ignored. What does faze her is how long it can take her to read all the names of those killed in one day. Ross says some days can take 20 to 30 minutes.

"You would just look at the whole list and it kept going and going and going and going. ... It just doesn't end," she says.

There are some victims who are not quite 1 year old, and others have no name or age at all, Ross says. For them, she reads, "No name, no age."

"You just know where they died. That's horrible," she says. "Can you imagine if you died and no one knew who you were — they have no identity for you? They pull people in to identify you and they can't because your face is gone and there's nothing?"

As the young woman, raw with emotion, stands in the wind, thousands of people stream by without noticing her, eager to get inside to the convention.

What 'The Fight' Is About

Inside the convention center, T.J. Scott sees life completely differently than Ross. They're both from Austin, but he's 32 years older, and there's not a gun too big for him.

"As far as I'm concerned, if you can afford to buy a tank, you should be able to buy a tank," he says. "See, my belief is that the Second Amendment was put in not to hunt, not to go plink at cans, not to shoot at targets. If and when tyranny tries to take over our country, we can fight it."

The NRA speakers Friday emphasized their belief that there are two Americas: the righteousness of the right and the decadence of the left. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz challenged Vice President Joe Biden to a debate on gun control.

"If he believes the answer to violent crime is not prosecuting felons and fugitives, not prosecuting gun crimes, but going after the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens," he said, "I would like to invite the vice president to engage in an hourlong conversation and debate: How do we stop crime?"

Sarah Palin also played a favorite conservative theme: American exceptionalism.

"This fight is about what kind of people we are. I want [my son] Trig to grow up in a country that is exceptional and is still strong and good and decent and free," she said. "So what keeps me optimistic, keeps us reloading in this fight, is the faces that I see here today and the millions who are with us in spirit."

If Democrats are hoping they might win an overtime period in the battle of universal background checks, the NRA is here to tell them it's not going to happen.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.
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