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With NRA convention in Dallas, city becomes ground zero of gun debate

Today, the NRA is unquestionably the staunchest defender of gun rights.Like it or not, it has been and remains better funded, better organized and more politically connected than any group demanding gun control.

This week, Dallas becomes ground zero in the debate over guns and gun ownership in America.

The National Rifle Association’s annual convention will be here. In the past, these gatherings have been huge.

This year, it's a gathering some oppose. Recent mass shootings, marches for gun control and our overheated political environment, they argue, make for a toxic mix that could attract some volatile players.

The truth is we Americans have always loved our guns.

The truth is that we Americans have always loved our guns. And gun rights supporters insist that nearly every effort to limit access to them — like the 1993 Brady Bill —has only increased demand.

“It’s just the first step; their intent is to ban all guns,” one gun store owner warned in 1993. "And I think the intent is there.”

In fact, he continued, “I find the ironic part being that the American public has been willing to buy the lie that this type of thing [gun control legislation] will decrease crime. I don’t believe that. No."

Neither do the five million members of the National Rifle Association, who since the year 2000 have rallied around the late Charlton Heston’s cry that the only way his guns would be taken away from him would be “from my cold dead hands!"

Today, the NRA is unquestionably, the staunchest defender of gun rights has been the NRA and its 5-million members.

Like it or not, it has been and remains better funded, better organized and more politically connected than any group demanding gun control.

The executive vice president and CEO of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, has argued that's because the NRA's positions reflect the views of the majority of Americans.

"We’ve always embraced the equality of Second Amendment freedom for all — all income levels, all races, all religions, all law-abiding men and women and all law-abiding Americans.”

Today, conservative talk show host Dana Loesch is one of the new faces of the organization.

She contends the NRA advocacy of gun rights and the Second Amendment represents something people in most other countries wish they had.

“America has one powerful defense that the rest of the world foolishly threw away or never allowed in the first place — an armed, trained populace," she said.

Lately, however, mass shootings striking any and everywhere have left many with a sense of insecurity.

Frustration has energized the proponents of stiffer gun control legislation. Last month, tens of thousands gathered in Washington D.C. for the March for our Lives event.

They heard from people like Parkland, Florida shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez, who, through six minutes of silence, showed the crowd the amount of time it took for the shooter to carry out his deadly actions on her high school campus.

“Since the time that I came out here it has been six minutes and 20 seconds," she said. "The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest ... Fight for your lives before its someone else’s job.”

Even in Texas gun law reform, protests have erupted. And despite the $40 million the estimated 80,000 NRA conventioneers will spend here, Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway urged the group to go elsewhere.

"There are people riding around right now here in Dallas with AR-15s in the trunks of their cars," he said. "We know this. There should be rules and regulations where they can be regulated.”

However, the faces of gun rights defenders have also changed.

In South Dallas, the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, named after the late co-founder of the Black Panther Party, urges its members to legally arm themselves to fight crime and defend against police brutality. It's a line of reasoning spreading far beyond the city limits.

The actor Ice-T told a surprised interviewer, “Well, I'll give up my gun when everybody else does.”

He went on to argue, “It's part of our Constitution. You know, the right to bear arms is because that's the last form of defense against tyranny. Not to hunt. It's to protect yourself from the police.”

This week, all those voices and more descend on North Texas to share their various interpretations of the Second Amendment.