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Gun Control Protests Staged Outside NRA Convention


And now to Dallas, which has been hosting the National Rifle Association's annual convention. The NRA has been a polarizing force for many years now for its uncompromising stance against stricter gun regulations, but that divide seems even more pronounced now after the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February, with its supporters even more vocal than ever. President Trump addressed the convention yesterday and offered his praises.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And now, thanks to your activism and dedication, you have an administration fighting to protect your Second Amendment. And we will protect your Second Amendment.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, survivors of gun violence and other concerned citizens gathered outside of Dallas's City Hall. They said they were, quote, "a counterbalance to the NRA. And they had what they called a Rally 4 Reform. Courtney Collins from member station KERA was at the rally and, she's with us now. Courtney, thanks so much for joining us.

COURTNEY COLLINS, BYLINE: Oh, happy to be here.

MARTIN: So tell us, how did the rally unfold?

COLLINS: It was really an interesting format. So there was a lot of speakers ranging from Newtown high schoolers to a woman whose unarmed son was killed by an off-duty security guard. And in between each speaker, Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in that recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he would work on a blank canvas posted behind the podium. He is an artist and has created artwork before to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting. He built today's creation piece by piece.

MARTIN: So did the rally have a central message that you could hear, something that everybody seemed to support or rally around?

COLLINS: There were a lot of different talking points, but the one thing everyone kept going back to was the desire to have universal background checks for gun owners. A lot of people were actually wearing T-shirts that said, we are the 97, alluding to the fact that 97 percent of the American people supposedly support universal background checks for gun owners. One of the people wearing one of those T-shirts was Lizzie Simpson, and she's a high school sophomore in Texas.

LIZZIE SIMPSON: As a high schooler, I'm scared everyday of going to school and if that's the last time I'm going to see my parents, if that's the last time I'm going to see my best friend. That needs to stop. There needs to be at least a beginning point where we as students, as parents, as church leaders, as people of the United States come out and say enough is enough. Something needs to be done, and I think that starts with universal background checks.

MARTIN: Was there any particular call to action at this rally? You remember when there were these massive student rallies a couple of months ago, a very large one in Washington, D.C.. They had a specific kind of list of things that they wanted people to do. Was there something like that here?

COLLINS: Yeah, it was pretty similar. Kind of a diverse list of what you could do. People were absolutely encouraged to speak to their elected officials, really get to know them. People were encouraged to come out to vote, also to donate. Amanda Johnson was actually one of the speakers at the rally. She lost her younger sister to a gun suicide seven years ago.

AMANDA JOHNSON: So for me, unfortunately, at this point, every gun death is personal. And whether that is a drive-by shooting, or it's a mass suicide, or a school shooting, I feel them all. Because I've experienced that grief, I'm not able to ignore these ever again. They're not white noise. And I will fight every bit as hard to stop suicides as I do school shootings and any other kind of shootings.

MARTIN: And, Courtney, before we let you go, I understand that there were counterprotesters or people who were wanting to make a point about gun rights starting to gather just as this protest was ending.

COLLINS: That's right. There were gun-rights activists from groups like Open Carry Texas. Many of them actually had their rifle strapped to their chests or their guns holstered at their hips. Their kind of big refrain as I spoke to people in that crowd was that they believe in the Second Amendment and are really worried that restricting that freedom will lead to other freedoms being restricted or taken away altogether.

MARTIN: That's Courtney Collins from member station KERA in Dallas. Courtney, thank you.

COLLINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.