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News and notes on guns in America

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President Donald Trump speaks at the 2017 NRA convention in Atlanta. [AP/Mike Stewart]

Daily Bulletin: What to Know About the NRA Convention in Dallas

Hello, readers. The National Rifle Association’s 2018 annual meeting kicks off in Dallas today. Hence, an NRA-heavy briefing to end your week. Let’s get to it. 

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NRA members, in their own words. 

Trace contributor Kerry Shaw has spent several months holding in-depth conversations with current and former members of the gun group. She wanted to understand what leads some gun owners to find kinship in the NRA — or, in some cases, what pushed them to part ways with it. As the NRA gathers for its annual convention, we are publishing the stories that stood out in Kerry’s more than 40 hours of interviews. They include: 

  • Ralph Meyers, a California father who turned to the NRA after his 25-year-old son was shot and killed at a party. 
  • Beth Alcazar, a mother of three who became an NRA instructor after a gunman held her daughter’s middle school classmates hostage.
  • Chuck Alexander, an avid shooter and hobbyist who signed up to get access to shooting ranges, but was alienated by the NRA’s political calculus and the fringe elements of gun culture he encountered.
  • And Khalil Spencer, a former NRA member who now supports his local shooting club — and his local gun-violence-prevention group.

You can find their stories, and more, here.Over the course of Kerry’s conversations, she also heard from now and former NRA members about the gun violence solutions they could support. Some of their views defy political and cultural expectations. Read them here.

WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

President Trump will address the NRA convention for the fourth straight year. “You came through big for me, and I am going to come through for you,” he told the group last year. The NRA spent $30 million on Trump’s presidential campaign, more than any other outside group.

Protests are planned around the convention this weekend. Students are staging a rally in front of City Hall on Saturday morning to call for gun reform. Nearby, a separate rally will honor victims of gun violence. An initiative calling itself NoNRAwill host a separate rally outside the convention center. The group, which launched recently to track the influence of NRA money in politics, is also tweeting the names of every child and teenager killed by gun violence this year, which they expect to take 10 hours to complete. Also at the convention center: students will host a “die-in.” Organizers are encouraging participants to bring their “tombstone-themed protest signs” and photos of victims. A Parkland father will erect a mural to honor his son. Manuel Oliver has erected least four other pictorial memorials to his son Joaquin, who was killed in the shooting, including one outside the Smith & Wesson headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts, as part of a series called “Walls of Demand.” Counterprotests are also planned. Six gun-rights groups will gather across the street from the convention center.

A U.S. senator sent his correspondence with the NRA to the Federal Elections Commission. In a series of letters since February, Senator Ron Wyden has been pressing the gun group on how much money they have received from Russia-affiliated individuals. First the NRA said there had been only one such contribution. Then, in the group’s most recent response, released by Wyden in April, the NRA admitted to receiving money from more than 20 Russia-linked individuals. Other questions, like how the group vets its donors, remain unanswered. We’ve updated our comprehensive timeline of the NRA’s reported ties to Russia here.

Mass panic erupted after shots rang out at a Tennessee mall on Thursday. Shoppers at the Opry Mills Mall described crowds running and hiding in bathrooms and storage rooms. The shooting stemmed from an altercation between two men. A 22-year-old man was killed, and the shooter is in custody.

A permitless-carry bill in Oklahoma is headed to the governor’s desk. Late Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Senate passed a bill that eliminates the need for concealed gun permits and training. At least 12 states currently have permitless carry in place.

Dick’s Sporting Goods has gone from jettisoning assault-style rifles to hiring a firm to lobby for gun reform. The national retailer has hired two Democrats and a Republican from the Washington, D.C.-based Glover Park Group.

A bill to allow guns in schools advances in Louisiana. At the Louisiana State Capitol, where guns are prohibited, House lawmakers voted to advance a bill that would allow weapons in K-12 schools and universities. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, a student unintentionally fired a gun in a school bathroom. The student was expelled for violating the school’s zero-tolerance policy on weapons.

NEW FROM THE TRACE

A lot has changed since last year’s NRA convention. America has suffered three of the deadliest mass shootings in its modern history. The gun group’s Russia ties are under scrutiny, and candidates it has supported have suffered a string of electoral defeats in conservative states and districts. Big consumer brands have severed corporate partnerships.

On the other hand: The NRA just posted a headline-making fund-raising haul. Gun sales seem to be rebounding from their “Trump slump.”

How to size up the NRA right now? The Trace’s Mike Spies spoke with gun policy expert Robert Spitzer to get his assessment. Read the Q+A here.