Three days after a shooter killed nineteen elementary school students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the National Rifle Association (NRA) held its annual meeting across the state in Houston. The meeting was originally scheduled to feature prominent GOP politicians—including former President Donald Trump, Texas Senators John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Representative Dan Crenshaw, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem—but following the shooting, Crenshaw dropped out, Cornyn clarified that he had dropped out before the shooting due to a previous commitment, and Abbott decided not to attend in person but still sent pre recorded remarks. Trump, Cruz and Noem attended.
CREW has requested records from Governors Noem and Abbott’s offices on internal discussions about whether to attend the event, given the optics of speaking out in favor of gun rights days after a devastating mass shooting.
It’s no secret that the NRA and the gun lobby funnel millions of dollars into politicians’ campaign coffers and spend millions more on lobbying—in 2021, the NRA alone spent over $20 million on gun issues, and millions more directly to politicians. For politicians, like Noem, to move forward with speaking at the NRA meeting even as millions express horror in the wake of the Uvalde shooting raises serious questions about the role of unfettered money in politics.
Noem is by no means an anomaly. In the aftermath of the shooting, Senator Mitt Romney offered “prayer and condolences,” but refused to take action on universal background checks, when 65% of Utahns support them. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who said he was “horrified and heartbroken,” but has benefited from $1.3 million in NRA spending over the course of his career, has filibustered popular measures like universal background checks. The NRA notoriously spent more than $30 million to elect former-President Trump, and repeatedly had a seat at the table for conversations about gun control in the Trump administration.
It’s all too clear that money in politics doesn’t just buy influence and manipulate elections—it has a real human cost. The public needs to know how governors like Abbott and Noem are pandering to the gun lobby, or people will continue to pay the price with their lives.