Even in the shadow of this week’s mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, former President Donald Trump delivered a speech at the annual National Rifle Association convention in Houston that began Friday.
Hundreds of companies did the same and also attended the event.
The NRA lists over 600 companies participating in this weekend’s exhibitor portion of the convention. The massive exhibition hall will be busy throughout the weekend, with the website touting “over 14 acres of the latest weapons and gear from the industry’s favorite companies.” Photos from Friday’s event showed a wide range of weapons on display, similar to previous NRA gatherings.
The big business presence comes amid a spate of attendee dropouts after the killing of 19 children and 2 adults in Uvalde, Texas. “American Pie” singer Don McLean was a singer who was slated to perform but backed out, telling news outlets “it would be disrespectful” to proceed after the shooting. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also backed out of plans for personal remarks.
A man holds a handgun conversion kit while a child looks on during the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Houston May 27 (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
At least one company withdrew from the event. Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the rifle used by the Uvalde shooter, announced it would skip the event, adding on its website that it was “deeply saddened by the tragic events in Texas this week.”
But Yahoo Finance reached out to dozens of other listed companies, and none offered plans to pull out of the event after the shooting.
‘[N]not an expression of political opinion”
Leica sports optics is an example. The company is best known for cameras, but also makes scopes for guns and binoculars for hunting. The company responded in a statement to Yahoo Finance by saying it does not comment on policies. “Accordingly, participation in the NRA Show is not a political expression of opinion,” the company said. “Our focus is exclusively on visitors who are interested in our sports optics products.”
Target Sports USA, which specializes in selling large ammunition online, will also participate. Its CEO, Miodrag Delmic, acknowledged that the convention “will certainly emphasize the need to work on mechanisms to prevent firearm abuse and curb gun violence.”
The story goes on
Other participants include larger public companies such as Ruger Firearms (RGR), Smith & Wesson (SWBI) and Vista Outdoor (VSTO). Many stallholders are also selling AR-15 style rifles, the type used in Tuesday’s attack.
As in the wake of other tragedies, gun stocks have rallied in recent days as investors expect consumers to buy the guns in anticipation of increased regulation.
Attendees at the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Houston, Texas, May 27 (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
The huge exhibition should also include companies that are not directly involved in the arms industry but appeal to a conservative audience.
Newsmax, the conservative broadcaster closely associated with Trump supporters, also had a booth and appeared to be broadcasting from there during the day on Friday. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Newsmax will cover the national NRA conference as a news event.”
Black Rifle Coffee Company (BRCC) was also listed as a participant. The so-called “Starbucks of the Right” didn’t respond to requests for comment this week, but CEO Evan Hafer previously told Yahoo Finance Live that his customers are “hungry to go out and really experience a coffee company that represents their values.” Hafer rejoined in February when his company went public via a SPAC merger and said, pushing the brand’s politics, “I don’t really pay attention to how other people define my company.”
“The interests of the arms industry and arms manufacturers”
Meanwhile, gun control advocates have criticized the NRA for continuing the conference and rallying protesters in the streets outside the event.
Demonstrators gathered before the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. (PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
From the White House podium on Thursday, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the NRA’s leadership is “contributing to the gun violence problem, not trying to solve it.”
“They represent the interests of the arms industry and arms manufacturers who market weapons of war to young adults,” she added.
This weekend, booths were reserved for companies of all sizes – including niche groups like the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, which is involved in youth shooting programs, and Ragnarok Supply Co., which makes an exploding target called the Fruit Nukes. None responded to multiple requests for comment.
Other speakers joined Trump, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Two other GOP lawmakers — Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Dan Crenshaw — withdrew from the event because their staffers said it was about scheduling issues.
A sign depicting former President Donald Trump stands at the National Rifle Association annual convention in Houston. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
Cruz traveled to Uvalde this week and went viral after being confronted by a British journalist who questioned why school shootings only happen in America.
Abbott also attended and said, “It is intolerable and unacceptable for us to have someone in this state who would kill young children in our school,” and was also endorsed by Beto O’Rourke, his opponent in that state’s election Herbst, for his confronted rejection of calls for stricter gun laws in the wake of the tragedy.
In a statement on its decision to go ahead with the full conference, the NRA said: “[a]As we gather in Houston, we will reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members, and commit to redoubling our commitment to keeping our schools safe.”
This post has been updated with additional context from Friday’s event
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, DC.
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