Former President Donald Trump read the name of each of the Uvalde school shooting victims at the start of a speech Friday at the NRA annual convention in Houston and called the shooting a “savage and barbaric atrocity that shocks the conscience of every single American.”
Meanwhile, outside the convention protesters gathered throughout the day with signs reading “Protect Kids Not Guns” and “Ban Assault Weapons Now!”
In his speech, Trump blamed Democrats for trying to politicize the massacre at the elementary school that left 19 children and two teachers dead. He said the U.S. must drastically change its approach to mental health.
The former president also called on “top to bottom” security overhaul at schools and said teachers should be allowed to concealed carry. “There is no sign that is more inviting to a mass killer than a sign that says gun-free zone,” Trump said.
“The existence of evil is one of the very best reasons to arm law-abiding citizens,” he said.
Trump called to the stage Jack Wilson, a volunteer security team member who shot and killed a shooter at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement in 2019. The gunman killed two people during service at the church, just west of Fort Worth, before Wilson stopped him within six seconds.
“I took out evil,” Wilson told the audience, adding that Trump was still his president. “We have to deal with evil at all levels. You have to be prepared to stand up and do what you have to do to stop evil in this country.”
In the wake of the church attack, Wilson’s actions drew the praise of state lawmakers, who lauded the passage of new gun laws in recent years that allow gun owners to take their weapons into places of worship and waive fees for private institutions that have their own security teams.
“I did what God would want me to do — would have me do — in that situation,” Wilson told the Star-Telegram in an interview a month later, after he received the Governor’s Medal of Courage in Austin. “And understanding that had I not done what I did, the situation would have been extremely much more chaotic.”
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told NRA members that Texas has seen “face of evil” repeatedly — shootings in Dallas, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, the Midland-Odessa area and now Uvalde.
“The entire state, the entire country, is horrified and grieving,” Cruz said. “And it’s an evil that has happened too many damn times.”
At the same time, he said, it must be understood what is behind the attacks.
“The elites who dominate our culture tell us firearms lie at the root of the problem,” he said, but “those furthest from the halls of power are the most dependent on the ability to defend themselves.
“Taking guns away from these responsible Americans will not make them safer, nor will it make our nation more secure,” he said.
The senator said the focus should be on “stopping the bad guys” and imprisoning violent criminals. He also suggested limiting schools to a single point of entry where multiple armed police officers or trained military veterans are posted.
“Ultimately, as we all know, what stops armed bad guys is armed good guys,” he said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told the crowd he objected to stricter gun regulations as a solution to curb mass shootings.
“I come before you this afternoon with a very heavy heart,” Abbott said in a prerecorded speech. His office announced Thursday he would be in Uvalde Friday to give an update on the shooting at Robb Elementary School where the 19 children and two teachers were killed.
“Moments like this tear apart the very fabric of a community, a community that until Tuesday, never thought that a tragedy like this could ever happen in such a quiet South Texas town like Uvalde,” Abbott said.
He urged people across the country to pray for Uvalde.
Among the protesters outside was high school sophomore Alexis Palomo of League City, who raised a neon green sign with the words “I DON’T FEEL SAFE AT SCHOOL” written on it.
“It’s just super scary,” she said. “Even kids who go to my school that at are 18 can buy like a gun or something that could potentially hurt me or my classmates.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke joined the crowd of protesters to tell them that the time to act to prevent the next mass shooting is now, and that those attending the NRA convention aren’t the enemies of those who are fighting for tighter gun restrictions.
“The people attending the NRA convention are not our enemies, we are not yours,” O’Rourke said. “We extend with our hands open and unarmed, in a show of peace and fellowship, to welcome you to join us to make sure this no longer happens in this country. But the time for you to respond and to join us is now. We cannot wait any longer for you. Those who will be the victims of the next mass shooting unless we act are counting on us now.”
O’Rourke did not talk about any specific legislation that should be supported or whether he wants to see laws introduced to make it harder to get a gun or to make it impossible to get certain types of firearms.
“We have to commit ourselves to do right now the things that are hard,” O’Rourke said. “Nothing about this will be easy.”
His speech came two days after he was escorted out of a news conference held by Abbott and other Texas Republican leaders, saying that attacks like the one at Robb Elementary in Uvalde are “on you until you choose to do something.”
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