DALLAS (Reuters) – Protesters on both sides of the U.S. gun debate took to the streets on Saturday outside the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Dallas after the latest in a long series of mass shootings put the issue back in the spotlight.
Across the street from the convention center where President Donald Trump addressed NRA members on Friday, a “Rally4Reform” drew about 200 demonstrators demanding tighter restrictions on firearms sales. Many were dressed in the orange that has become the color of the gun control movement.
They watched as Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin, was killed in the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, spray painted a mural of kids running and a backpack-wearing student in a rifle’s crosshairs.
Many flinched and some sobbed as he hit the wall with a hammer to simulate the sound of gunfire.
“You were in the wrong room yesterday,” Oliver said of Trump, who enthusiastically embraced the NRA on Friday. “You should be talking to the people we are now.”
A counterprotest was planned later by a coalition of six local gun rights groups which expect to draw several hundred people. Participants have been encouraged to openly carry sidearms instead of rifles, and not to wear body armor, in an effort to appear more approachable by the public.
The local gun rights groups said gun control supporters had gone mostly unchallenged lately.
“It is time to stand up peacefully and show the media that Gun Rights matter to Texans and that we are not just the fringe,” the counterprotest’s organizers wrote on Facebook.
An estimated 80,000 people were expected in Dallas for the NRA’s three-day meeting, which began on Friday.
The debate over access to guns took center stage after a 19-year-old former student used a semiautomatic rifle to gun down 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale.
Students who survived became national figures, demanding tighter firearms controls and a check on the power of the NRA.
Gun rights advocates cite the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
About 100 protesters gathered at a second demonstration across town on Saturday, wearing orange ribbons and carrying signs that said “Shame on you NRA!” One NRA member dressed in a suit and black cowboy hat briefly scuffled with protesters as the rally began, but was quickly escorted away by police.
Actress Alyssa Milano said she created the organization NoRA, which organized the second rally, to combat the influence that the gun lobby wields with U.S. politicians.
“It debilitates our lawmakers from implementing common-sense gun form,” Milano said in an interview.
Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Jonathan Oatis