NRA plans Fort Worth expo in wake of mass shootings. Residents are divided.

By JACK HOWLAND | Fort Worth Star-Telegram | Published: August 13, 2019

The National Rifle Association will host its personal protection expo at the Fort Worth Convention Center from Sept. 6-8, offering self-defense workshops, exhibit halls packed with firearms, and even a concealed carry fashion show.

Some residents say they welcome of the event, which is expected to draw thousands of gun enthusiasts to Fort Worth for three days. Others say it’s bad timing.

This month, national attention was swiftly brought back to a debate over gun laws, after more than 30 people were killed within 24 hours in separate shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.

Samantha Blackwell, a 20-year-old Tarleton State University student from Saginaw, said it feels “a little morbid” to host an event promoting guns following the tragedies.

Blackwell, though she supports legal concealed carry, said she thinks it’s time to discuss common-sense changes to gun laws, such as banning military-style assault rifles.

It’s not a good time, she said, for the NRA to host a gun show.

“I think that they just need to kind of take a step back and look at what’s been going on and just think, ‘Is this really what we need right now?’” she said. “I think a lot of people are super sensitive to the idea of guns being out in the public as it is. I think it could be triggering for people. I think it could incite more violence.”

But C.M. McDonald, who on Thursday had a .380 Colt concealed in his pocket in downtown Fort Worth, doesn’t see an issue with the expo. The 39-year-old Bowie resident would like to see gun laws become less restrictive, and more people own firearms for self-protection.

“Evil people can do evil things,” McDonald said, referring to perpetrators of mass shootings. “The thing that’s changed is not the accessibility of weapons. They’re less accessible than they used to be.”

That ideological divide speaks to the current moment in a nation that has long had a love affair with guns but — since the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999 — has been wracked by a cycle of mass shootings.

In the El Paso shooting, investigations indicate the 21-year-old accused gunman with ties to the Dallas suburb of Allen drove to the border city with a high-powered rifle specifically to kill Hispanics. He stalked the aisles of a Walmart busy with back-to-school shoppers, killing 22 people and injuring more than two dozen others, police said.

In Dayton, it took a gunman with a military-style weapon less than one minute to kill nine people and injure more than two dozen others who were gathered at a bar. Police shot and killed him.

The NRA — the largest gun rights group in America, whose name often comes up in the wake of mass shootings — took to Twitter on Thursday to say most proposed gun reforms wouldn’t fix the issue and there need to be practical solutions, such as more security in public spaces.

“There is no place in our society for the unhinged lunatics who commit these evil acts,” one NRA tweet reads. “We must not let their ungodly behavior effect the unity we share — or the constitutional freedoms in which we all believe.”

Plans to host the personal protection expo in Fort Worth haven’t changed.

Differing opinions

McDonald, who works in Fort Worth, said he has canceled his NRA membership because of reports of misappropriated funds. He still believes, however, the expo could be a good way for more people to learn about self-defense and the importance of gun ownership.

More restrictive gun laws, he said, wouldn’t lead to fewer shootings. The AR-15, a high-powered semiautomatic rifle used in past attacks, was designed and sold back in the 1950s, he said.

What has changed isn’t availability of guns, he said — it’s the “moral decay” in society in which people don’t respect “our innate humanity.”

“You yank down the Ten Commandments from a classroom,” he said, “and you have to explain to someone on a non-religious level that it’s wrong to murder people.”

L.J. Smith, 67, of Grapevine, is also a supporter of the Second Amendment and owns guns, even though he would support more restrictions, such as an assault weapons ban and universal background checks.

The former police officer believes there should be a more “middle road” discussion surrounding gun control featuring second amendment advocates like himself concerned by mass shootings.

But he has no problem with the NRA or its upcoming expo, he said.

“They have just as much of a right to have an expo here as anybody else,” Smith said.

Blackwell, on the other hand, said NRA conventions can excite the wrong people, and she also worries about backdoor sales and loopholes.

“I just feel like it’s not a good time,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s ever a good time.”

Joshus Lopez, a 36-year-old bartender in downtown Fort Worth, similarly said “with what’s going on right now,” he’s uncomfortable with the expo. Although he said he feels safe leaving work in the early morning, he worries an NRA convention could agitate people’s anxieties about being in public spaces.

He pointed to the incident Aug. 6 in New York City’s Times Square in which large crowds mistook motorcycles backfiring for gunshots and stampeded in a mass panic.

Lopez understands that fear. When he was bartending downtown in the fall of 2018, local police agencies held an active shooter drill near the Convention Center, but he began getting calls from other bartenders who thought it was real.

“That gave us a sense of fear that that could happen down here,” he said. “And this is a really safe downtown.”

Lopez, who’s half Puerto Rican and half Polish, also said he knows why Hispanic residents — especially those with darker skin than his own — would be wary of the NRA coming to Fort Worth in the wake of the El Paso shooting.

“I have a fear for the situation,” Lopez said, “and coming to my city.”

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