After two sleepless nights wondering what, if anything, she could do, Nancy Harris, 73, decided to drive four hours to Houston. Before she left, she pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down 12 names.
Each name was someone she knew had been shot. She put an asterisk next to the ones who had died, including her own daughter.
She says she didn’t know the National Rifle Association, one of America’s most powerful lobbyist groups, was meeting in Houston this weekend until after the horrific shooting in Uvalde on Tuesday. She is a gun owner but stood across the street from the NRA’s convention to share her story with anyone who would listen.
“I have no children left,” Harris said. “I drove from Fort Worth to tell these assholes they have to stop.”
About 55,000 people were expected to attend the NRA annual meeting at the George R Brown Convention Center in Houston. Harris was among at least 500 others filling a park across the street to protest the group, just days after an 18-year-old gunman walked into an elementary school a few hours away and slaughtered 19 children and two adults.
It was the latest in an epidemic of mass shootings and daily gun violence in the US, where, despite a majority of citizens wanting more restrictive gun members, powerful groups like the NRA have successfully lobbied lawmakers to block such regulations for a generation.
“How many more of these do you intend to report on?” Harris asked a journalist outside the convention hall. “All I want is reasonable gun control, reasonable background checks.”
In one part of the park, protesters listened to dozens of speakers – victims of gun violence, activists with political organizations and politicians – calling on Texans to vote out Republican leaders who control state politics. Another crowd crammed along a fence-line across from the main entrance of the convention center.
Some groups, including Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the local Democratic party, had set up booths to pass out signs, water and voter registration forms. Many more people gathered in a scrum directly across from the convention hall, shouting into megaphones with chants like “not one more” and “vote them out”.
One group, holding wooden crosses for each of the Uvalde victims and wheeling a child-size coffin, split off from the main group to march around the park. “Protect our kids,” they shouted, “not guns.”
A small child in pink shorts and tiny sneakers stood in the middle of the crowd with a handmade sign: “Protect us.”
A rally with speakers began around noon outside the Houston convention center with a moment of silence. Overhead, a plane carried a banner: “NRA GO AWAY.”
Liz Hanks, with Moms Demand Action’s Texas chapter, then led a chant of “shame” toward the convention, across the street.
“We are an embarrassment around the entire world because we cannot protect our children in our schools,” Hanks said. “We know how to fix this. Turn around and let them know how you feel.”
David Hogg, a survivor of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, encouraged people to call their representatives in Congress to encourage a vote on gun control measures. He said a group he co-founded, March For Our Lives, was hosting a second march on Washington DC this summer.
“I believe that this time can be different and will be different,” Hogg said. “The NRA is at its weakest point it has been in American history, ever.”
The event’s organizer invited anyone who had been a victim of gun violence to come to the stage. A woman who introduced herself as Adrienne said her son had died after being shot in a road rage incident on Halloween 2019.
“I had to bury my baby on his 19th birthday. No parent should have to have that. My son was my life,” she said. “I’m the one serving a life sentence, not the monster who killed my son.”
She said one of the last things her son did was get a tattoo of her name on her arm. After his death, she decided to follow suit. She said seeing it had been a source of comfort amid the awful pain.
She said the day she had received her son’s death certificate, she had felt she couldn’t go on. “I had to remember to pray. To fight.”