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Gun Control Activists Protest NRA In Dallas


That NRA meeting we mentioned is designed to be a celebration of guns, gun culture and the Second Amendment. And today, it's attracted protesters in Dallas. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann is there and joins us now from outside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. Brian, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: Brian, this convention, of course, comes as a national gun debate is going on following this deadly school shooting in Parkland. But do a lot of people there also see this as an opportunity to not just talk about the public reaction there, but the midterm elections coming up?

MANN: Yeah. That's right. At this NRA convention, there is a lot of talk about guns and gun rights, obviously, but there's a much bigger conversation here about America and conservative culture, Christianity, law and order - a lot of talk of the border wall. And this is a crowd, of course, that absolutely loves Donald Trump. They love the direction he's trying to take the country. In his speech here yesterday, the president urged his most loyal voters not to stay on the sidelines.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You win. You have this great win. Now you take a breath. You relax. All of a sudden, two years is up. They're fighting like hell, and you're complacent. We cannot get complacent. We have to win the midterms.

SIMON: As we just heard, the president mentioned people fighting like hell. And there have been these large protests across the country about guns and gun control, especially since the shootings at Parkland. What are you seeing and hearing there today?

MANN: Yeah. There's a big crowd now that's gathered here outside the convention center - religious groups, student groups. And I spoke a short time ago with Waed Alhayek, a 19-year-old student at the University of Texas. She says she doesn't want to ban guns outright. She just wants a system that keeps guns out of the hands of bad people.

WAED ALHAYEK: My whole life, I have waited for, you know, politicians. I've looked up to them, waiting for them to say something - to speak up. And they haven't. They haven't done so. And so when I saw the Parkland students not waiting for anyone, and they decide to take a stand on their own, it really inspired me. And so, you know, our main thing is that we want universal background checks because 97 percent of American voters support universal background checks.

SIMON: Brian, talk about the mood inside the convention hall because, as we note, this gathering follows months, really, when the NRA has been the object of a lot of protests following the shootings in Parkland, where 17 people were killed. Many of the student survivors of that violence and national figures have pointed again and again to the NRA. Do you have a sense of that in the convention center?

MANN: Yeah. It's interesting. I think if anything, it's making people here more combative, more entrenched. The people I talked to at the NRA convention believe that the narrative after Parkland was twisted by the media and by those students who called for more gun control. There's a lot of deep distrust here of traditional news organizations like ours.

I had a conversation with one gun owner this week who was convinced that the moral outrage after Parkland was just sort of concocted and fake. And I told him I had interviewed kids and parents who endured that horror in Florida who want more restrictions on firearms - that they weren't fake and weren't part of some liberal conspiracy. And he seemed really surprised.

I think it's important to remember that a lot of these folks get their news and information from very different sources, including the NRA's own new TV network that they've launched, but also from places like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

SIMON: A lot of business goes on at a convention, doesn't it?

MANN: Yeah. And that kind of gets lost in this culture war stuff. But this is also really just a huge trade show - 15 acres of displays - everything from clothes to sniper rifles - anything you want that's gun-related. And that's what a lot of people are here for.

I spoke with Ashley Ecker from Connecticut. Her family makes and sells revolvers in a variety of shiny kind of flashy colors that they market specifically to women.

ASHLEY ECKER: They are extremely popular with women. I mean, women love them. They call us up all the time, and they just can't find them sometimes because they love them so much. I mean, it's a very - they're very popular guns. And we've catered to all the different colors for the women who have different color choices.

MANN: Yeah. So you can hear there, Scott, inside the convention center, a lot of the gun debate just sort of falls away. And people are just having a good time.

SIMON: North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann, thanks so much.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Brian Mann