UPDATE: Advocates For Gun Reform, Others For Gun Rights Rally During NRA Convention

Around 80,000 people are in Dallas this weekend for the group’s annual convention

The Latest on the NRA convention in Dallas:

Updated on Saturday May 5th at 7:45 p.m. (Central Time)

Students protested gun violence and called for gun reform in a rally Saturday morning at Dallas City Hall, across the street from the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual convention.

Ahead of the event, student organizer Waed Alhayek from the University of Texas at Arlington told KERA that the focus is regulating gun violence not taking away guns themselves.

“Our generation is the post-Columbine generation. We’ve seen tragedy after tragedy after tragedy,” she said. “After the Parkland students stood up, even older people are saying, “Why have we accepted ‘thoughts and prayers’ on Twitter?”

Manuel Oliver, a parent of one of the students killed in the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, traveled to Dallas to attend the rally as a guest speaker. Oliver, an artist, made a painting on site at the rally.

“Our generation has so many stereotypes, that we’re lazy, that we’re entitled, but one stereotype we embrace is that we’re stubborn,” Alhayek said. “If we believe in something, we keep fighting for it until it happens. I think that’s a good reason why this isn’t a lost cause.”

As the Rally 4 Reform wound down, gun rights activists from groups like Open Carry Texas and the Proud Boys gathered for their own demonstration at City Hall.

“We’re here to use our First Amendment right to protect our Second Amendment right, and voice our opinion and show that we’re not exactly the crazy people that society makes out gun owners to be,” said 16-year-old Emily Defosse.

She was there with her sister and dad, Milferd Defosse. He thinks there are plenty of gun regulations already on the books.

“If you take away from the law-abiding citizens, who’s going to protect against the criminals? And if somebody breaks into my house, for me to protect my family? My gun works faster than 9-1-1,” he said.

Saturday, the second day of the NRA’s convention, was also the day when Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s executive vice president and CEO, delivered his address to the group’s members and people attending the event.

Lapierre said the NRA members are “good-hearted” and “patriotic” people and added that the “political elites” and the “media elites” “demonize” the NRA.


Updated on Friday May 4th at 5:12 p.m. (Central Time)

Elected officials from Texas have joined President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in speaking to National Rifle Association members at the group’s annual meeting.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott told the crowd Friday afternoon that the answer to gun violence is to strengthen gun rights under the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

He also talked about Stephen Willeford, who grabbed his rifle and ran across the street to open fire on the gunman who slaughtered 26 people in a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs in November.

Willeford is an NRA member who has served as an instructor. He was honored by the NRA earlier Friday. After he exchanged gunfire with 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, Willeford jumped in a man’s pickup truck and they pursued him. Kelley died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Abbott said “because (Willeford) had a gun, he saved lives.”

Trump assured attendees of the National Rifle Association's Leadership Forum Friday that his administration is fighting to protect their constitutional right to bear arms.

Trump told the crowd gathered inside the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas that their right to bear arms is “under siege.” But he pledged that those rights “will never, ever be under siege as long as I’m your president.”

The president didn't focus solely on guns or the Second Amendment in his speech. He also implored NRA attendees not to become “complacent” and vote for Republicans in the midterm elections in November.

In his speech, he endorsed Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Paxton’s wife, Angela, who’s running for State Senate District 8. They all face Democratic challengers this fall.

He said that Democrats want to “outlaw guns” and said if the nation takes that step, it might as well ban all vans and trucks because they are the new form of death for “maniac terrorists.”

Vice President Mike Pence also addressed the crowd with a strong defense of the Second Amendment.

"The quickest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Pence said, with mentions of recent mass shootings across the country.

The vice president faulted media outlets for not telling “the whole story about firearms in America” and the role of “firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens” making communities safer.

Both Pence and Trump mentioned Dallas Police Officer Rogelio Santander in their remarks. The 27-year-old officer was killed last month by a suspected shoplifter at a Home Depot in Northeast Dallas.

Weapons of any kind were prohibited when Trump and Pence spoke.

Reaction to the forum

Beth Spears, an NRA member from Missouri, has been to all of the conventions in the last 25 years. She says she's only missed one — the 1996 convention in Dallas.

"It's a family tradition."

She said she likes coming to learn about her freedoms and congregate with people who enjoy those freedoms and the same shooting sports as she does. She's part of a competitive shooting club in Missouri.

She got to hear the president and vice president speak at the forum Friday.

"It's always good just to hear it straight from them. It's obvious that he does care about America and about the people and wants to make it great again. And that's what I want to see."

Watch Trump and Pence speak at NRA forum

Feed courtesy of PBS NewsHour.

Sutherland Springs man honored

The Texas man who grabbed his rifle and ran barefoot across the street to open fire on a gunman who slaughtered 26 people in a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs was honored at the NRA forum Friday.

Stephen Willeford told those gathered for the group’s leadership meeting, “I took care of my community on that day and I’d do it again.”

Willeford was at his home on a Sunday in November when his daughter alerted him that she’d heard gunfire at the First Baptist Church nearby. Willeford has said he immediately retrieved his rifle from his weapon safe. Running across the street to the church, he saw 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley and exchanged gunfire.

As Kelley sped away, Willeford ran to a pickup truck stopped in an intersection, jumped in and the two called 911 and pursued Kelley.

Kelley died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Trump on Air Force One

Trump, speaking on Air Force One on the way to the event in Dallas, called the NRA a “truly great organization that loves this country.”

The forum is sold out, with a capacity of about 8,000 people.

‘More than just a privilege’

Ahead of the forum Friday, attendee Rick Womack and his 11-year-old son, Jacob, talked with KERA’s Stella M. Chávez. The father and son both have lifetime memberships with the NRA. Womack said that being a gun owner is a daily choice.

“Our freedom is what's so important here and our choices that we have,” he said. “We feel that that is more than just a privilege, we feel like that's a right.”

When asked how he feels about protesters coming to speak out against the convention, he said: “It’s educational. We have to understand the problem on both sides and understand the needs that we have.”

Womack and his family live in a rural area and use their guns for self-protection and hunting.

“We carry daily. My son is a hunter. We hunt, we harvest, we do it the ethical way. That's the world we grow up in,” he said. “We're very proud to be Americans, but we're very pro-Second Amendment.

Presidential speech preview

Back for a return engagement, President Trump’s address to the NRA comes after he temporarily strayed from the group’s strong opposition to tougher gun controls following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida — only to rapidly return to the fold.

For the fourth year in a row, Trump will speak to the group. Last year, he became the first sitting president to appear in more than 30 years, declaring that the “assault” on the Second Amendment had ended.

"The NRA was one of the biggest supporters of President Donald Trump and his campaign,” NRA spokesman Jason Brown told KERA. “Our NRA members were a large part of helping propel him to the White House. It's continued support from President Trump, it's continued commitment to defending the Second Amendment, and it feels good.”

But this year’s speech comes as the issue of gun violence takes on new urgency after one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

Student survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead are now leading a massive national gun control movement. While the shooting has not led to major changes from the White House or the Republican-led Congress, it did — at least briefly — prompt Trump to declare that he would stand up to the powerful gun lobby. He later backpedaled on that tough talk.

What to expect this weekend

An estimated 80,000 people will be in town this weekend for the NRA's annual meeting at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

"We fully anticipate that the Dallas community and visitors to this great city of Dallas will enjoy this event, participate, in whatever capacity, whether they’re protesters, counter-protesters, or supporters, with the highest level of decorum and civility," said Paul Stokes, a Dallas assistant police chief, at a press conference.

Protests are planned this weekend featuring groups opposed to the NRA and in support of gun reform. Stokes says First Amendment rights will be respected.

"This is a high-profile event. So this isn't much different than how we plan for other high-profile events," he said. "We do have a very good blue print. And we make some adjustments based on what is happening at the convention center, but it is very consistent with our normal planning process."

The Dallas Police Department is working with officers from area cities, including Richardson, Garland, Grand Prairie, Mesquite and Irving.

The NRA convention runs through Sunday.

Check out the schedule of events in our guide.

Protests planned this weekend

Several protests are planned Friday and Saturday while the National Rifle Association holds its convention in Dallas.

Donna Schmidt leads the Dallas chapter of Moms Demand Action. She's helping organize a Saturday morning rally in front of City Hall. Her group will also train activists to counter the NRA's lobbying efforts.

“Frankly I'm not that concerned about a convention as I am about the NRA board and its leadership that continue to push this ‘guns everywhere agenda,’ Schmidt told KERA. “It’s the ongoing stranglehold that they've had on leadership in our country that we're going to change.”

There are more protests, vigils and speeches planned throughout the weekend to oppose the NRA.

Open Carry Texas, a gun rights group, is planning a counter-demonstration on Saturday.

Find details on planned protests in our guide.

Scenes from the convention

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Note: The NRA has provided financial support to KERA.

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