Just days after the deadliest mass school shooting in Texas history, the National Rifle Association (NRA) – America’s leading gun lobbyist group – will meet a few hours away in Houston on Friday.
Ashton P Woods says they are not welcome in his hometown.
“These people are coming into our community. The city of Houston needs to kick them out,” said Woods, an activist and founder of Black Lives Matter Houston. “We have to be just as tough about these things as they are.”
Woods is helping organize one of several protests planned just outside the George R Brown Convention Center, where NRA members will browse through exhibits of firearms and gun paraphernalia and hear speeches from key Republican leaders.
The goal of the Black Lives Matter protest, Woods said, is to “get loud” outside while powerful speakers – including Texas governor Greg Abbott, Texas senator Ted Cruz and former US president Donald Trump – take the podium inside. Woods said the issue of firearms is particularly important to the civil rights group that primarily tackles issues of police brutality in America.
“Whether it be death by suicide, death by cop, death by mass shooter, we need to control the access people have to deadly weapons,” Woods said. “These things are interconnected.”
The NRA is a powerful lobbying organization in American politics, spending nearly $5m in 2021 to pressure lawmakers to oppose measures like universal background checks for gun sales and bans on powerful assault weapons.
About 55,000 NRA members are expected to attend the event in Houston. The annual meeting is often a draw for activists and counter-protests as members inside discuss firearms policy – often the need for expanding access to guns.
Outside the convention center, multiple counter-demonstrations are expected in Houston – especially in light of a mass shooting that killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Houston police are also expecting crowds at the convention center. Jodi Silva, a police spokeswoman, said the department does not share details of its policing strategies, but that there would be a visible presence of officers.
“We always are aware of the demonstrations and-or counter-demonstrations and staff accordingly,” Silva said. “We staff accordingly to make sure that everyone can participate and be safe.”
Megan Hansen and the Rev Teresa Kim Pecinovsky watched the news updates from Uvalde on Tuesday in shock. When they found out the NRA would be in Houston Friday, they decided they also needed to take action.
“We live in a state full of people who love their guns more than they love the lives of the children in their community,” Pecinovsky said. “I had to do something with that amount of rage and lament.”
Hansen and Pecinovsky have organized an interfaith gathering that will include a silent march and a moment of reflection when organizers will read the names of those who died in Uvalde.
While Texas’s politics are staunchly conservative, the Houston area has become a bastion of progressivism. Harris county, which includes Houston, voted for President Joe Biden by 56% in 2020. Hansen said she wants others to know that the NRA’s message does not reflect that community.
“Houston is the most diverse city in the United States and we have people from all over the world who do not agree with the rhetoric of the NRA,” Hansen said. “We want to just say, remember the people who we lost and how can we take this feeling and turn it into action?”
That action – specifically legislative measures to restrict access to high-powered firearms – is unlikely to come from Republican lawmakers in the state. Yet activists in Houston want the shooting in Uvalde and protests this weekend to spark more pressure on political leaders to prevent the next tragedy.
“I’m hopeful this will not just be something people attend and then leave,” Pecinovsky said. “It needs to be a catalyst for real and tangible change.”
A Texas jury on Friday ordered Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim, a day after deciding the Infowars host must pay them $4.1 million in compensatory damages for the suffering caused by his lies about the 2012 massacre.
Wesley Ball, an attorney for Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse, was killed in the attack in Newtown, Connecticut, had asked the jury to award them $149.5 million to reach the $150 million they initially sought.
Ball argued that only such a large sum would be enough to "take the bullhorn away" from Jones.
"I ask that with your verdict, you not only take Alex Jones’ platform that he talks about away. I ask that you make sure that he can’t rebuild the platform. That’s what matters," he said. "That is punishment, that is deterrence."
Jones' attorney Andino Reynal told jurors they had already sent a message to Jones and other talk show hosts with the $4.1 million judgment that “their standard of care has to be different.” He also argued that a substantial award would only serve to discourage people who question "government officials who dropped the ball" from doing so.
Reynal objected to the decision, arguing that the verdict did not comply with Texas law, which caps the actual award at $750,000 per plaintiff. The judge acknowledged the objection and added that the law implies that in the state “we don’t trust our juries.”
Punitive damages are intended to punish someone for especially harmful behavior.
The jury's decision followed expert testimony from forensic economist Bernard Pettingill whose testimony was intended to give jurors a picture of how much money Jones has and, by extension, how much it would take to punish him for his behavior. Pettingill estimated that Jones and his companies are worth $135 million to $270 million — an amount his defense team disputed — and said that Jones and his companies made more money after being "deplatformed" by several social media outlets in 2018. Jones has maintained throughout the trial that his companies suffered losses since he was removed from the sites.
Pettingill also testified that Jones began paying $11,000 a day into a shell company he controls after he was found liable in a default judgment in the Sandy Hook case.
“He is a very successful man,” he testified. “He promulgated some hate speech and some misinformation but he made a lot of money and he monetized that.”
The jury in this case had only been asked to decide whether Jones, who has already been found liable by a judge because he did not hand over critical evidence before the trial began, must also pay Jesse’s parents for the emotional distress and reputational damage caused by his false claims.
The trial included testimony from both parents and Jones, who has portrayed the lawsuit as an attack on his First Amendment rights. Following the massacre, he had asserted that it was fabricated and included crisis actors. He later acknowledged that it took place.
Heslin and Lewis testified Tuesday that Jones’ lies left them in fear for their lives and compounded their grief.
“Having a 6-year-old son shot in front of his classroom is unbearable and you don’t think you’re going to survive and then to have someone on top of that perpetuate a lie that it was a hoax, that it was a false flag,” Lewis said, speaking directly to Jones during her testimony. “I don’t think you understand the fear you perpetuate, not just to the victim’s family but to our family, our friends and any survivor from that school.”
The crux of the trial is a 2017 episode of NBC’s “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly,” on which Heslin appeared and challenged Jones’ denial of the shooting. Heslin says in the episode: “I held my son with a bullet hole through his head.”
Jones and another Infowars host, Owen Shroyer, later implied that Heslin had lied.
Heslin and Lewis are among several Sandy Hook families who have filed lawsuits against Jones arguing that his statements that the mass shooting was a hoax have led to years of abuse from his followers.
I'd say you proved jc's point.
What you think reality is is not.
And you can call it an involuntary vacation if that makes you happier.