DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are in North Texas today. Both men are in downtown Dallas addressing members of the National Rifle Association at the group’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) leadership forum.
Security is tight in and around the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, where some 80,000 people are expected to walk the halls before the NRA annual meeting wraps up Sunday afternoon. And exhibitors are hoping more people will attend this year, because the President and Vice President will be here.
The NRA annual meeting, along with the presence of world, national and state leaders, is also attracting people on opposite side of the gun debate – including protestors fighting for more gun restrictions after a mass shooting that killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
With a number of protests are planned; Dallas police say they will have a visible presence to make sure everything remains peaceful. Some protestors and pro-NRA advocates will be carrying guns and they’re allowed to do it except during the NRA-ILA forum. When Vice President Pence announced his attendance weeks ago the NRA said they would defer security to the Secret Service and “… firearms and firearm accessories, knives or weapons of any kind will be prohibited in the forum prior to and during his attendance.”
On Thursday the group Faith Forward Dallas gathered across from City Hall to hold a prayer vigil to mark the deaths of Texans killed by gun violence last year. Kessler Park United Methodist Church Pastor Wes Magruder said, “We want the NRA to listen to what the young people of our country happen to be saying in this particular moment. We’re asking the NRA to have a meaningful dialogue about things that can and should change.”
For the fourth year in a row, Trump will speak to the group, which meets this year in Dallas. Last year, he became the first sitting president to appear in more than 30 years, declaring that the “assault” on the Second Amendment had ended.
The NRA has faced increased scrutiny and opposition as the issue of gun violence takes on new urgency since the Parkland shooting. Even President temporarily strayed from the NRA’s strong opposition to tougher gun controls following the Valentine’s Day massacre — but he quickly returned to the fold.
Trump has long enjoyed strong backing from the NRA, which spent about $30 million in support of his presidential campaign. The NRA showcased its high-profile guests for the event, with NRA Executive Director Chris Cox saying on Twitter: “We are honored to celebrate American Freedom with Donald Trump.”
The exhibit hall at the NRA annual meeting opens today. According to the NRA website this year’s event will have “more than 20 acres” of firearms, shooting and hunting accessory displays. Some 800 firearm companies and related vendors will be in the exhibit hall.
In addition to the NRA-ILA forum this afternoon, where Governor Greg Abbott, and Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are also scheduled to speak, there will be a Women’s Leadership Forum, Luncheon and Auction and other workshops, seminars and product demonstrations throughout the day.