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Top One Magazine

Trump and Pence compete for ovations at the NRA after a rash of mass shootings

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Vice President Mike Pence and former President Donald Trump occupied the same stage at the National Rifle Association’s annual leadership summit on Friday, but only one of them received an extended entrance standing ovation Lee Greenwood crooned in the background.

“I was proud to be the most pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment president you’ve ever had in the White House. And with your support in 2024, I will be your loyal friend and fearless champion once again as the 47th President of the United States,” Trump said to a crowd dotted with MAGA hats.

The speech took place against the backdrop of recent mass shootings in Kentucky and Tennessee. Candidates offered up different explanations for the shootings.

“This is not a gun problem, this is a mental health problem, this is a social problem, this is a cultural problem, and this a spiritual problem,” Trump said, while also making a detour to blame problems with immigration. He proposed a new tax credit to cover the cost of concealed-carry firearm trainings for teachers. “If even 15 percent of teachers, people that are skilled with arms, we want that 15 percent were voluntarily armed and trained to stop active shooters, we would achieve effective deterrence and the problem would cease to exist and that would be a lot of people.” he said.

Pence, meanwhile, called for the quick execution of mass shooters as a solution to gun violence.

“I’m tired of the senseless violence and loss of life that could be prevented if our leaders would support law enforcement, protect our schools, institutionalize the obviously mentally ill, and enact legislation that would ensure that anyone who engages in these heinous acts of mass violence meets their fate in months, not years,” Pence said.

Pence, speaking in his home state, was met with boos from the crowd once he appeared on stage. Pence said that Democrats need to address the “very real problems of violent crime and mental health that are costing thousands of American lives every year.”

“Ignoring the motivations of the trans activist who killed three children and three adults at that Christian school in Nashville, and the ‘mental health challenges’ of the man who killed five people and injured eight others in Louisville, President Biden and the Democrats have returned to the same tired arguments about gun control and confiscation,” Pence said.

Pence seemed to win the crowd over by the end, and earned a standing ovation of his own.

Trump seemed to chide the crowd for its negative reaction to his former vice president. “I hope you gave Pence a good, warm approval,” he said. “I heard it was very rough — you’ve made news today.”

The event marks the first time both Pence and former President Donald Trump have shared a stage since they left office. Pence has ramped up criticism of his former boss recently, including over the Jan. 6 riot.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy received warm applause and standing ovations.

Noem signed an executive order on stage with NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre that puts an end run around some banks’ recent efforts to stop lending to gun retailers and manufacturers in her state.

“I will be signing it on behalf of protecting those industries related to the gun and firearm industry from being discriminated against by financial institutions banking, credit card or otherwise,” said Noem, who is weighing her next political move.

Other presidential contenders, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, sent in video messages. Guy Relford, a prominent Indiana talk show radio host and 2nd Amendment attorney sitting in the front row, said he’s leaning toward DeSantis in the primary but found his decision to send a video message “disappointing.”

“Trump has always said all the right things. He’s got a little bit of a spotty record as president,” Relford said. He mentioned many in the gun rights movement didn’t like Trump’s swift action on bump stocks even though “there’s not a lot of people who care a lot about bump stocks necessarily.”

Ramaswamy criticized candidates who didn’t appear in person. “I didn’t want to be one of those career politicians that checks the box on NRA,” he said, adding that he came here to tell folks he owns an AR-15.

The NRA convention was once a must-stop cattle call for presidential contenders, but the group’s influence has been on the decline in recent years. In 2019, NRA held its annual convention in the belly of Lucas Oil Stadium adjacent to where the actual convention takes place in the Indiana Convention Center. This year, the speeches were delivered in a tiny ballroom in the convention center.

In the wake of the recent mass shootings, some Republicans changed their tune. Republican Gov. Bill Lee publicly urged the Tennessee state Legislature to pass a version of a red flag law in the state. That’s a policy Pence once embraced when he was governor of Indiana. But as a potential presidential contender today, Pence said America doesn’t need gun control but crime control.

“We don’t need lectures about the liberties of law-abiding citizens. We need solutions to protect our kids,” Pence said. “So to Joe Biden and the gun control extremists, I say: Give up on your pipe dreams of gun confiscation, stop endangering our lives with gun bans, and stop trampling on our God-given rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution!”

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