As the National Rifle Association began its annual convention in Houston, at least five musicians backed out of planned concerts and others came to protest the pro-gun lobbyists who took over the city’s downtown in the wake of the mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, just three days prior.
Don McLean, Lee Greenwood, Larry Stewart, Larry Gatlin and T. Graham Brown have reportedly backed out of performances to the NRA faithful, including Donald Trump and other Republican leaders slated to appear at the conference. It opens just days after a gunman slaughtered 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school on the other side of the state, renewing the national debate over gun violence.
Trump and other Republican leaders were scheduled to speak at the event. Leaders of the gun rights lobbying group planned to “reflect on” — and deflect any blame for — the school shooting in Uvalde. Hundreds of protesters angry about gun violence demonstrated outside, including some holding crosses with photos of the Uvalde shooting victims.
“American Pie” singer Don McLean was the first to back out, saying “it would be disrespectful” to go ahead with his act after the country’s latest mass shooting.
Inside the convention hall Friday, thousands of people walked around, stopping at booths that featured displays of handguns, rifles, AR-style firearms, knives, clothing and gun racks. Outside, police set up metal barriers at a large park where several hundred protesters and counterprotesters gathered in front of the downtown convention center.
At a news conference in the protest area before the main speaking event, singer Little Joe, who is with the popular Tejano band Little Joe y La Familia, said in the more than 60 years he’s spent touring the world, no other country he’s been to has faced as many mass shootings as the U.S.
“Just across the street we have these people with blood on their hands,” he said, crying as he spoke. “Of course, this is the best country in the world. But what good does it do us if we can’t protect lives, especially of our children?”
Gatlin, who pulled out of a planned appearance at this year’s convention, said he hoped “the NRA will rethink some of its outdated and ill-thought-out positions.”
“While I agree with most of the positions held by the NRA, I have come to believe that, while background checks would not stop every madman with a gun, it is at the very least a step in the right direction,” Gatlin said.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, said the city was obligated to host the NRA event, which has been under contract for more than two years. But he urged politicians to skip it.
“You can’t pray and send condolences on one day and then be going and championing guns on the next. That’s wrong,” Turner said.