Former Vice President Mike Pence was booed upon taking the stage in his home state on Friday during the 2023 National Rifle Association (NRA) Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) leadership forum in Indianapolis.
Pence, who is the former governor of Indiana, was present at the event among a list of Republicans including former President Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
This year, the event occurs in the aftermath of recent mass shootings in Nashville, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky. The same event previously occurred following mass shootings in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, and Uvalde, Texas, in 2022.
Audrey Hale, 28, who was transgendered and ultimately killed by police, used two rifles and a handgun to kill three adults and three children on March 27 at the Christian Covenant School in Nashville. Earlier this week, 25-year-old shooter Connor Sturgeon, who was also killed by police, opened fire in a Louisville bank, killing five individuals and injuring eight others.
The three-day NRA event beginning Friday showcases “over 14 acres of the latest guns and gear from the most popular companies in the industry,” according to the NRA’s website, and is “the largest gathering of NRA members and Second Amendment supporters in the country.”
When Pence took the stage, he was greeted by an audible chorus of boos and some cheers, which prompted the former vice president to respond, “I love you too,” before going into his prepared remarks. He was introduced to the crowd by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre. Trump tried to pressure Pence into not certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, which the former vice president refused to do, sparking the ire of some Trump supporters.
“It really is good to be back with all the patriots in the NRA, men and women who stand on the ramparts of freedom, defending all the God-given liberties enshrined in the Constitution of the United States every day,” Pence said during his remarks, which aired on C-SPAN. “With your support, the Trump-Pence administration championed freedom for four remarkable years, and every single day we stood without apology for the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”
The former vice president, who may also run for president in 2024, touted the appointment of conservative judges “to every court in the land,” including the Supreme Court, which he praised for a 6-3 decision last June that struck down a New York law requiring that individuals show “proper cause” in order to get a license to carry a firearm outside a home.
Pence also made reference to the deadly shootings in Nashville and Louisville, quoting the Bible in relation to the tragedies. He spoke for all attendees by saying their “hearts and prayers” are with the victims and their families.
“Ignoring the motivations of the trans activist who killed three children and three adults at that Christian school, and ignoring 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 gun confiscation,” Pence said.
He added: “We don’t need gun control; we need crime control. We don’t need lectures about the liberties of law-abiding citizens; we need solutions to protect our kids.”
One of those solutions, he said, involved putting armed guards in every private and public school across America. The NRA agrees, saying in the aftermath of the Nashville shooting that “it’s time to prioritize school security and safeguard our children.”
Is the NRA Losing Support Among Its Members?
In January of this year, a report referencing data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and published by The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom covering gun violence, found that only 5,300 NRA members gave to the association’s Political Victory Fund PAC last year. It represented a decrease of over 40 percent in donations since the 2020 presidential election, and 45 percent since the 2018 midterms.
Although the total number of members is unclear, the NRA says that it has 5 million members—a statistic the association has cited since 2013. LaPierre said membership was at 4.3 million during the January board meeting, while some analysts put the total closer to 3 million. Either way, it still suggests that less than 2 percent of the NRA’s members donated to its PAC in 2022.
However, the gun lobby organization received recent political victories following the events in Nashville in the form of legislation in two states.
One involved the delay of a hearing on a law in Colorado to ban semi-automatic firearms, while a separate law passed through Nebraska’s legislature that enshrined the right to carry concealed handguns without a permit. The latter vote was one away from being sent to the governor for his signature.
On Tuesday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order, described as an “order of protection law,” that sets a three-day deadline for law enforcement to report new criminal activity and court-related mental health information to the Tennessee Instant Check System, the state’s background check system.
Newsweek reached out to the NRA via email for comment.