Twenty-three years ago, members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) were forced to confront the optics of holding their annual meeting just days after a mass school shooting in Columbine, Colorado had horrified the US and the world.
“At that same period where they’re going to be burying these children, we’re going to be having media…trying to run through the exhibit hall, looking at kids fondling firearms, which is going to be a horrible, horrible, horrible juxtaposition,” NRA lobbyist Jim Baker said in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, according to private recordings published by NPR last year.
That same horrible juxtaposition—images of dead children contrasted with the celebration of the weapons that killed them—looks set to occur this week. The NRA’s annual meeting in Houston is scheduled for May 27-29, kicking off just two days after a gunman killed 19 children and 2 adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The Houston Chronicle reports that the NRA’s annual meeting will go ahead as planned, with featured speakers including former US president Donald Trump, Texas governor Greg Abbott, and congressional representatives Ted Cruz and Dan Crenshaw. It will be the NRA’s first annual meeting since 2019, as it canceled the event the past two years due to the pandemic.
The NRA did not immediately respond to Quartz’s request for comment about the meeting or the Uvalde school shooting.
The Uvalde tragedy is not the only mass shooting that will be looming over the NRA’s annual meeting. There have been more mass shootings in the US in 2022 than there are days in the year. Last week’s included a racially motivated shooting at a Buffalo, New York grocery store last week that left 10 dead, and another racially motivated shooting at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods, California, that left one dead and five wounded.
US representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, called on the NRA to cancel its meeting Tuesday, while senate majority leader Charles Schumer looked to bring gun-control legislation to a vote in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting. But history suggests the NRA will neither alter its convention plans nor waver from its broad opposition to gun-control measures.
After Columbine, concerns that calling off the NRA’s annual meeting would be tantamount to accepting blame for the shooting prevailed, and the group went ahead with convening in Denver, Colorado, roughly 10 miles from the site of the violence that had left 13 dead and more than 20 injured. In 2012, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which 20 children and six adults were killed, the NRA resisted efforts to pass gun-control legislation, with executive vice president Wayne LaPierre telling NPR, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
There is, however, at least one scenario in which the NRA accepts that guns do not belong. In accordance with Secret Service policy, NRA meeting attendees will not be permitted to bring their guns to the event where Trump and other politicians are speaking on Friday.