Former US president Donald Trump has argued that the United States should make it easier to confine “deranged” people and eliminate gun-free school zones after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers this week at a Texas school.
- Tuesday’s shooting dead of 19 students and two teachers by an 18-year-old gunman equipped with an AR-15 style semiautomatic assault rife is expected to limit attendance at the NRA’s conference
- It is the organisation’s first convention in three years due to the pandemic
- Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz are due to speak
“Clearly, we need to make it far easier to confine the violent and mentally deranged into mental institutions,” Mr Trump said in a speech at the convention, in Houston, of the National Rifle Association, a gun rights advocacy group.
Tuesday’s fatal shooting of 19 pupils and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, by an 18-year-old gunman equipped with an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle again focused attention on the NRA, a major donor to Congress members, mostly Republicans.
The gunman boasted on social media about purchasing the high-powered weapons as soon as he turned 18.
Uvalde is about 450 km west of Houston.
The shooting was expected to limit attendance at the NRA’s first convention in three years.
On suggestions to improve the security of schools, Mr Trump said every school should have a single point of entry, strong fencing and metal detectors, adding there should also be a police official or an armed guard at all times in every school.
“This is not a matter of money. This is a matter of will. If the United States has $40 billion to send to Ukraine, we can do this,” he said, referring to Washington’s financial and military support for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion in February.
The former US president also called for eliminating gun-free school zones, adding that such zones leave victims with no means to defend themselves in case of an attack by an armed person.
“As the age-old saying goes, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Mr Trump added.
The audience cheered as Mr Trump echoed speakers who rejected background checks or bans on semiautomatic weapons.
“The various gun control policies being pushed by the left would have done nothing to prevent the horror that took place. Absolutely nothing,” Mr Trump said.
“Unfortunately, ever since Columbine, we’ve been afflicted by a contagion of school shootings carried out by deeply evil, violent and mentally disturbed young men,
Protesters holding signs and crosses with photos of victims from this week’s school shooting, converged outside the gun lobby’s convention.
About 500 protesters — some shouting “NRA go away,” and “Shame, it could be your kids today” — jeered as thousands of members thronged the conventional centre.
‘Laws will not stop evil madmen’
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, urged attendees not to back down in their fight against gun control.
US Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, is scheduled to speak later on Friday afternoon local time.
Two other Republican speakers, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, dropped out of in-person speaking roles.
In a pre-recorded video, Mr Abbott said: ”As Texans, and as Americans, we grieve and mourn with these families.”
However, he said, laws did not stop the Uvalde shooter and pushed back at calls for further regulation, saying “laws will not stop evil madmen from committing these atrocities”.
Mr Patrick said he withdrew to not “bring any additional pain or grief to the families and all the suffering in Uvalde.”
On the convention centre’s exhibit floor, attendees could handle rifles, handguns, hunting and assault rifles at dozens of booths, and browse Sierra Bullets and other firms’ ammunition displays.
However, in a decision announced after the mass shooting at the Uvalde primary school, attendees were not permitted to bring firearms into the event.
Some strolled the floor wearing cowboy hats and red Trump 2024 hats. One man who was waiting to get his badge called himself a lifetime NRA member, and jokingly asked if there were “afterlife” memberships available so he could always stay a member.
Tim Hickey, a Marine Corps veteran attending the event, dismissed the protests.
“These people are puppets and sheep to the media. They are not changing anyone’s mind,” he said.
Outside, protester Melinda Hamilton, 60, the founder of Fort Worth, Texas-based Mothers of Murdered Angels — who lost her daughter and grandson to gun violence — held a vigil on a park across the street from the convention.
“It doesn’t make any sense that an 18-year-old can buy a gun,” she said, referring to the ages of the Uvalde and Buffalo, New York supermarket shooters.
Houston activist Johnny Mata called on the NRA to halt the convention and hold a memorial service for the victims.
“They have the audacity not to cancel in respect of these families,” said Mr Mata, who represented advocacy group Greater Houston Coalition for Justice.
He said the NRA should “quit being a part of the assassination of children in American schools”.
The NRA’s decision to proceed with its largest annual gathering is part of a decades-long strategy of standing up to pressure for gun control that dates back to the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.
There have been dozens of mass shootings in schools since that time but that has not altered the NRA’s stance.
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