NRA convention attendees, protesters on gun control in wake of Texas school shooting

Mark Felix/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(HOUSTON) — Days after the shooting massacre at a Texas elementary school, the National Rifle Association is gathering this weekend in Houston as the debate over gun control heats up.

The annual convention has also drawn protesters calling for greater gun reforms in the wake of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

One attendee said she has struggled with the debate over gun reform as both a Texas gun owner and a grandmother of 13.

“I struggle with that a lot,” Teresa Wakefield, of Houston, told ABC News Friday while browsing the floor of the gun show.

But after Uvalde, where an alleged 18-year-old gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers, she said it’s time for lawmakers to reconsider the legal age to purchase a gun.

“I don’t think that an 18-year-old should have been able to go in there and buy rifles. That’s just too much for an 18-year-old,” she said. “You can’t buy alcohol. Why should you be able to buy weapons at 18?”

Most Americans support gun reform measures including universal background checks and red flag laws, polling shows.

Though Wakefield believes no amount of gun control legislation would stop mass shootings.

“It’s unnecessary, and it’s uncalled for, but we will never be able to stop it. It’ll never stop,” she said.

When asked about the Uvalde shooting, Wakefield broke down in tears.

“It’s just all this heartache and heartbreak and devastation,” she said. “But it’s not our fault. It’s not the NRA’s fault. It’s not any gun owners’ faults.”

‘Rabbit hole’

Several gun owners ABC News spoke to at the convention were open to reform — if limited.

Texas gun owner BJ Spalding said he doesn’t support red flag laws but is for expanding background checks.

“That’s one thing I don’t have a problem with,” he said while on the floor of the gun show Friday.

Ron Levandowski, who traveled in from Utah to attend the convention, said he would support a red flag law but worries about what he called a slippery slope.

“I think that’s going down a whole different kind of rabbit hole,” he told ABC News Friday. “Let’s say Joe Biden passes this law tomorrow, and he puts a hardcore-left person in charge of who gets a red flag, then we have another issue.”

Tom Shadrix, an NRA member from Florida, told ABC News he would support reform that would keep guns away from people with “psychological issues,” but found most reform measures “overkill.”

“I want Republicans and smart-minded Democrats to hold the line, because I think it’s in our God-given rights that we be able to protect ourselves,” he said. “Just because an event like this happens doesn’t mean they need to twist it in a political way to their advantage.”

Several Republican officials who attended the event spoke out against gun restrictions.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said calls to further restrict gun access are “all about control and it is garbage,” while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz argued that expanded background checks would not work and instead called for armed officers at schools.

‘We’re angry and we’re fed up’

Outside the convention, protesters lined the streets with chants for change.

“My daughter is a teacher, and she had to learn to pack bullet wounds in her classroom in order to teach,” Kim Milburn told ABC News. “She is in a classroom, and I fear for her life every day.”

Milburn called on lawmakers to “do your job.”

“Protect our children,” she said. “Get it done right now. We’re tired, we’re angry and we’re fed up.”

Fourteen-year-old Aubrey Long came to protest with her father and brother.

“I shouldn’t go to school and be scared that I could get hurt that day because we can’t control our guns,” she told ABC News.

Aubrey also said that she worries about her brother and sister in the wake of the Uvalde shooting.

“I got chills when I heard what happened,” she said. “I don’t understand why we haven’t been controlling this, why this hasn’t changed.”

On the outskirts of the protests, Texas science teacher Clark Ellis was holding a poster Friday with the faces of his eighth grade students.

“I am tired of worrying for my students. It’s not fair that they have to sit there and wonder whether or not they get to go home at the end of the day,” he said. “At this point it feels like lying to them to say, yes, everything’s going to be okay.”

Ellis said he was standing off to the side hoping to have a conversation with NRA members and find common ground on reform measures like increasing the legal age to buy AR-15 rifles and high-capacity magazines and around gun storage requirements.

“We’re looking for allies in this. Whatever we can do to try and make it safer for the kids that I love in my classroom, that’s something that we have to do,” he said. “We can’t do nothing.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.