"In the nation's bitter divide over guns, the tale of two Americas was on vivid display in downtown Houston," reports CNN.
HOUSTON, May 28 (Xinhua) --"Protect children, not guns!" Crowds of protesters crying for gun control shouted outside the convention of the well-known gun rights lobby group National Rifle Association (NRA) on Friday in downtown Houston, Texas.
The first day of the NRA annual meeting met with angry demonstrations just three days after the Uvalde school shooting claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers merely 300 miles (about 483 km) away.
The "Don't Look Away Rally" is to "demand swift and strong action against the gun violence that continues to devastate our neighborhoods, schools, and families," the Harris County Democratic Party, one of the organizers, said in a statement.
"It was really heartbreaking ... those children who literally have yet to even know what they wanna do, discover their talents, discover their hobbies in the future...They're supposed to learn who they are and they got that taken away from them," Olivia Otou-Branckeart, an 18-year-old high school senior, told Xinhua at the rally.
"I think they (school shootings will) continue to happen because nobody does anything about it. Everybody's buried their heads in the sand, and they do believe for some reason that owning a gun expresses freedom," Jim Hunnicutt, a 66-year-old protester who once worked in the transportation industry, told Xinhua.
"This shouldn't be happening. It doesn't happen anywhere else in the world. Just America," he said. "Right now, America has 120 guns for every 100 citizens. It's the largest cache of weapons in the world. And that has to change."
As the protests went on outside, a number of Republican politicians including former President Donald Trump made remarks one by one on the stage of the NRA convention on Friday. They dismissed calls for stricter gun laws one by one, claiming that's not the answer to preventing future tragedies, local media reported.
"The existence of evil in our world is not a reason to disarm law-abiding citizens," Trump claimed in his fifth speech at a NRA annual convention, "The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens."
He told NRA members: "You are the backbone of our movement."
Similar to Trump, Texas Governor Greg Abbott also dismissed calls for gun reforms in his pre-recorded video for the NRA convention on Friday.
"There are thousands of laws on the books across the country that limit the owning or using of firearms, laws that have not stopped madmen from carrying out evil acts on innocent people in peaceful communities," said the gun-friendly Republican governor.
Earlier on Friday, Texas law enforcement officials revealed at a press conference in Uvalde that they had waited too long to breach the classroom where the shooting took place -- they had waited in the hallway for more than 45 minutes when children inside that classroom repeatedly called 911 during the attack.
However, these revelations went unmentioned by Trump and other Republicans when they talked about overhauling school security at the NRA convention on Friday, said a CNN report.
"In the nation's bitter divide over guns, the tale of two Americas was on vivid display in downtown Houston," the report said.
"This shouldn't be a political issue. This is common sense about do we, or do we not want to save our children?" said Hunnicutt in his interview with Xinhua, criticizing U.S. politicians who refuse to make hard decisions.
The NRA annual meeting, which was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, will conclude on Sunday. Attendees are prohibited from bringing "firearms, firearm accessories, knives, and other items" including backpacks and selfie sticks.
The organization currently has over five million members, according to its website.
The United States has seen at least 212 mass shootings so far this year, according to the nonprofit research group Gun Violence Archive. It defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people were shot or killed, excluding the shooter.
As of Tuesday when the Uvalde school shooting happened, over 31,300 people have died or been injured due to gun-related incidents in the United States this year.