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Officials in Houston, Texas, have ramped up security measures in anticipation of the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in what is expected to be a busy Memorial Day weekend, authorities said Thursday.
The gathering is slated to begin Friday at the George R. Brown Convention Center in the downtown area and will run through the weekend. The event has come under intense scrutiny following the killing of 19 school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas by a gunman armed with a rifle.
Authorities are expecting around 80,000 people to attend the convention, not including protesters from both sides of the gun debate. Specific zones for protests and counter-protests have been designated at nearby Discovery Green park, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner told reporters.
“You will see officers everywhere,” he said. “We will respect everybody’s right to protest and speak their concerns and their voice. But we will not tolerate the destruction of property, nor will we tolerate people assaulting individuals.”
He said the department is “something short of full mobilization” for the holiday weekend and will partner with local, state and federal agencies to keep the peace.
The NRA gathering has drawn a significant amount of negative attention following Tuesday’s deadly school shooting in Uvalde. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner noted that the contract to host the convention has been on the books for two years and that canceling it would have exposed the city to civil liability.
He added that an “entertainer” canceled a scheduled appearance at the gathering. “American Pie” singer Don McLean is one of a handful of artists pulling out of the event.
“There comes a point a time when people have to recognize that it’s disrespectful to be talking about guns when 19 kids have been killed,” Turner said. “It would be disrespectful for the governor, the president, elected officials to show up and no one should have to tell them not to.”
Former President Trump is expected to speak Friday at the convention. In a statement issued Wednesday, the NRA said it would use the event to “pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members and pledge to redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”