But none of the leaders ignored the potential for high tension following the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman unleashed a rampage earlier this week that left 19 people dead and two teachers.
FULL COVERAGE: The Uvalde School Shooting
Protest zones, both against the NRA and those against the opposition, are now activated right through the gates of the convention.
Up to 80,000 people are expected to attend the convention, which Mayor Sylvester Turner said has been planned for two years. Turner said while he wants organizers to consider postponing the event, especially in the wake of the massacre, there is nothing the city can do to force a cancellation that would not expose them to legal liability.
So, with the decor, national attention turns to Houston and the convention. Here are the key things to know as the highly controversial event unfolds.
The scene of day 1
Barricades were spotted outside the “GRB” on Friday morning ahead of protests and counter-protests as Houston police await outside.
According to the event schedule, on-site registration which began Thursday afternoon resumed at 8 a.m. The showroom then opened its doors an hour later.
At noon, demonstrators began gathering in the designated protest zone, chanting “All children matter”.
Just the previous afternoon, Houston City Hall had been the scene of a small protest, where a protester questioned the safety of the conference while comparing the situation to a defining moment in the pandemic.
“If the city can cancel the rodeo for public health, isn’t that a matter of public safety?” said Neil Aquino, one of the people who showed up on Thursday.
“I strongly believe that Mayor Turner should cancel the NRA convention,” said fellow protester Polly Johnson.
Rallies continued into the afternoon, with protesters holding signs behind barricades facing the street.
The safety of protesters and participants is a priority, say city leaders
With the NRA convention, whether protesters or Mayor Turner liked it or not, Houston police and fire chiefs have assured that they are ready to keep protesters and attendees safe.
“We’re going to have enough officers to deal with whatever we need immediately,” Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said.
Turner asked people to stay peaceful and warned those planning to attend.
WATCH HERE: PROTESTS RALLY AS NRA MEETING CONTINUES
“There comes a time when people have to realize that it’s disrespectful to talk about guns when 19 children have been killed,” Turner said Thursday.
A protest organized by several local groups took place on Friday afternoon at Discovery Green. Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Texas governor who interrupted a press conference in Uvalde the day after the shooting, participated in the shooting.
SEE MORE: Parkland survivor Beto O’Rourke defies NRA at Houston protest
Who is and is not present
The guest list for the event is changing.
Thursday, the facilitators Lee Greenwood, Don McLean and Larry Gatlinwho were to perform at the meeting, withdrew in light of the massacre.
SEE RELATED STORY: ‘American Pie’ singer Don McLean pulls out of NRA convention in Houston after Uvalde mass shooting
Two Republican legislators, U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw and US Senator John Cornyn, both released a few days ago, before the Uvalde shooting. Crenshaw is in Ukraine and Cornyn, who traveled to Uvalde shortly afterwards, has a scheduling conflict.
ABC13 contacted several times to Texas Governor Greg Abbott‘s office to find out about his plans. We were told that Abbott also made the decision not to attend. Instead, Abbott will be in Uvalde for a Friday afternoon press conference.
And just hours before the convention doors open, Texas Lt. Govt. DanPatrick announced that “after prayerful consideration and discussion with NRA officials” he will not be attending the convention.
SEE MORE: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick backs down from speaking to NRA: ‘I wouldn’t want to bring any more pain’
Who is at the convention?
Former President Donald TrumpThe speech began just before 5 p.m. He began by acknowledging the Uvalde tragedy and asked for a minute of silence as he read the names of the 21 victims.
Trump echoed Governor Abbott’s assertion that the shooter’s actions were a mental health issue, not a gun access issue.
The former president then suggested a complete overhaul of school security, including a mandatory single point of entry and increasing police department budgets specifically for active shooter training.
“It’s not a question of money. It’s a question of will. The United States has 40 billion dollars to send to Ukraine. We should do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of our children at home,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd. .
Before Trump, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz addressed attendees earlier in the Friday afternoon session, opening his speech on the evil of the Uvalde school shooting.
“None of us will understand the manifest evil that happened that day in Uvalde,” Cruz said, recounting his time in the grieving city this week. “It’s an evil that has happened too many times.”
We don’t want an Uvalde to happen, say NRA attendees
Anthony Segura, an NRA trainer in Houston, New Mexico, attends the conference and said what happened at Uvalde hit him hard because his daughter-in-law is a teacher.
“I can honestly say that three nights ago I didn’t sleep all night thinking about it,” Segura said. “Everybody blames the gun. Everybody blames the NRA. You know, we’re not the bad guys. Our main focus is safety and training.”
“We’re as sorry as anyone else. We don’t want this to happen. All we’re trying to say is blame the gun, blame the people who own the guns , the law-abiding gun owners of this country, we are not the cause of this problem,” said John Thoesen, another attendee.
Check back to this article throughout the day for conference updates in downtown Houston.
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