DALLAS — Amid the national debate on guns, National Rifle Association members say their 2018 convention took on a much greater significance than usual as NRA leaders and President Trump himself warned them that complacency heading into November’s elections will cost them.
Mr. Trump and NRA leaders told them that Democrats would pursue impeachment and try to repeal the Second Amendment if they manage to take control of Congress.
F. Lee Collins, 65, of Dallas, said this year’s convention was particularly important in light of the post-Parkland gun debate, which has generated an unprecedented wave of activism among gun-control advocates and new spokespeople for the cause in some of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“I think Republicans — we’re conservative, quiet — we kind of keep to ourselves. I’m not carrying a sign, so that’s not our nature to be combative, so in a way we lose our voice,” said Ms. Collins, a first-time attendee. But she doubted that will be an issue coming out of the convention.
“Don’t get complacent — absolutely,” she said.
Dave Wilson, 69, of Pennsylvania, said the key message out of the convention was the need to defend GOP gains in Congress against an onslaught of activism from Parkland students, whom he argued are being exploited.
“The kids weren’t behind that; Democratic progressives were behind that,” he said of the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. “Everybody should know that.”
Jennifer Dalton, a 46-year-old registered nurse from Missouri, said she’s frustrated with the negativity on both sides.
“We all need to stand together and work together — protect our rights,” she said. “This is just a good way for people who are like-minded to hopefully do that in a positive way.”
In Mr. Trump’s appearance Friday at the convention, the president urged attendees not to get complacent, remaining content with helping propel him into the White House in 2016.
“You have this great win. Now, you take a breath. You relax. All of a sudden, two years is up. They’re fighting like hell, and you’re complacent,” Mr. Trump said. “We cannot get complacent. We have to win the midterms.”
Chris W. Cox, who heads the NRA’s legislative-lobbying arm, said Democrats have already tipped their hand by calling to repeal the Second Amendment and talking about impeaching Mr. Trump if they retake control of the House and potentially the Senate in the midterm elections.
“Here’s the truth: it’s either going to be Nancy Pelosi’s vision, or ours,” he said, referring to the House minority leader and would-be speaker. “So steel yourselves and lock arms. They want a fight, so we’ll give it to them.”
As Mr. Cox indicated, gun control activists are vowing to keep up their momentum through to November, saying Parkland has dented the NRA’s political influence and has fundamentally shifted the contours of the gun debate.
“No amount of fear- mongering will be enough to halt the NRA’s losing streak, which voters are poised to extend in the upcoming midterms,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
But Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the NRA, mocked the notion that the NRA’s influence is waning. He told attendees that the group’s membership is in fact at an all-time high now, approaching 6 million active members.
“They’ve taken their best shot,” he said. “And you know what? We’re still here and we aren’t going anywhere.”
Still other attendees, though, said they’ve weathered gun control debates before.
“I mean, that same rhetoric has been out there in varying degrees for a long time,” said Roddey Rappe, a 61-year-old from South Carolina at his fourth straight convention. “So I don’t really think it’s that much more important than the last one or the next one.”
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