NBC's Kasie Hunt reports from Houston, Texas on what's been said at this year's National Rifle Association convention.
In a fiery speech Saturday before cheering supporters, the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre took on advocates for new gun laws and said a national background check bill “got the defeat that it deserved."
“We will never surrender our guns, never,” LaPierre, the organization's executive vice president, said on the second day of the gun-rights group’s convention in Houston, Texas.
He argued that recent mass shootings, including the killing of 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school in December, have been used “to blame us, to shame us, to compromise our freedom for their agenda.”
The gun rights lobby’s convention was part victory celebration, part pep rally as the NRA’s leaders cheered the defeat of a background check bill and said they would oppose any new attempts to pass national legislation on guns.
“Our feet are planted firmly in the foundation of freedom, unswayed by the winds of political and media insanity,” LaPierre said. “To the political and media elites who scorn us, we say let them be damned.”
A bill supported by President Barack Obama that would have expanded background checks on gun purchases would have done nothing to stop recent mass shootings, LaPierre said. That bill was defeated in the Senate last month.
“The bill wouldn’t have prevented Newtown or Aurora,” LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, said in his speech to several thousand attendees. “It won’t prevent the next tragedy. None of it has anything to do with keeping our children safer in any school anywhere.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, co-sponsored the background check bill. Toomey has said the bill failed to pass because members of the GOP did not want to hand the White House a policy victory.
LaPierre also referenced the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt as an argument for putting guns in the hands of more Americans.
“How many Bostonians wished they had a gun two weeks ago?” LaPierre said. “Boston proves it. When brave law enforcement officers did their jobs in that city so courageously, good guys with guns stopped terrorists with guns.”
NRA officials confirmed to NBC News that LaPierre’s remarks were the first time the organization had brought up the Boston Marathon bombings in connection with their political fight against new restrictions on guns.
The annual convention was expected to draw about 70,000 people over three days. As many as 550 exhibitors were packed into the George R. Brown Convention Center, bringing with them racks and display cases filled with handguns, rifles, and other firearms.
LaPierre claimed that the NRA’s membership stood at 5 million and said the organization aimed to amass 10 million members.
A lifetime membership in the NRA costs $1,000, and the organization was able to claim that both its youngest and its oldest lifetime members were in attendance on Saturday.
Wayne Burd of Arkansas was born in 1917, and was recognized for the second year running as the rifle association’s oldest lifetime member. Among the freshest faces present was the group’s youngest lifetime member, Elaih Wagan, a 3-year-old from Austin, Texas. Wagan's grandfather purchased a lifetime membership as a gift for the little girl.
NBC News’ Kasie Hunt and Gabe Gutierrez and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
- NRA annual meeting convenes as gun-control debate rages
- Toomey: Background check plan failed because of Republican politics
- Republican politicians pay tribute to NRA clout at annual meeting