Former President Donald Trump and other prominent Republicans still plan to speak at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Texas on Friday, days after a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in the state.
Trump wrote on social media Wednesday that he will keep his “longtime commitment to speak in Texas at the NRA Convention” because the U.S. needs “real solutions and real leadership in this moment, not politicians and partisanship.”
“In the meantime, we all continue to pray for the victims, their families, and for our entire nation–we are all in this together!” Trump’s post said.
Trump, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz and other GOP politicians are set to attend the NRA Institute for Legislative Action’s “Leadership Forum” in Houston, roughly a four-and-a-half-hour drive from the site of Tuesday’s gun massacre in Uvalde. The influential group, which has fought many federal efforts to tighten gun-safety laws, has faced fresh criticism in the last two weeks after mass shootings at a grocery store in a predominantly Black Buffalo, N.Y. neighborhood and the Robb Elementary School in Texas.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson will also join Trump at the event, according to an NRA press release announcing it earlier this month. The group has billed Friday’s forum as a “celebration of Second Amendment rights.”
But two other Texas Republicans who were slated to appear, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, told CNBC on Wednesday that they won’t attend the event. Both said they backed out prior to the shooting.
“Prior to the tragedy in Uvalde we had already informed the NRA he would not be able to speak due to a unexpected change in his schedule,” Cornyn spokeswoman Natalie Yezbick said in an email. Cornyn “has to be in D.C. for personal reasons on Friday,” she added.
Justin Discigil, Crenshaw’s chief of staff, said that the congressman is unable to make it because he is in Kyiv, Ukraine.
“We let the event organizer know that he wouldn’t be back in the country in time to attend the event Friday evening,” Discigil emailed CNBC.
The NRA-ILA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the shooting and its proximity to the forum, or on Cornyn and Crenshaw’s cancelations.
Spokespeople for Abbott and Cruz did not immediately comment on the NRA event. A spokeswoman for Trump referred CNBC to his social media post.
Cruz on Tuesday criticized Democrats and media figures “whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law abiding citizens.”
“That doesn’t work. It’s not effective,” Cruz said.
Noem will speak at the forum, a spokesman for the governor told CNBC on Wednesday. Noem, in a promotional video tweeted out by the NRA on Sunday, paraphrased a quote from former NRA leader Charlton Heston: “Joe Biden, I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands.”
Tuesday’s massacre was the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. The suspected shooter was an 18-year-old who may have been wielding both a handgun and a rifle and may have worn protective gear. He was also killed Tuesday.
Some Democrats, whose prior attempts to enact gun-reform laws have hit a wall in Republicans and firearms advocates, criticized the NRA directly after the most recent mass shooting.
“The other side is all too ready to bow in obeisance to the NRA,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday morning on the Senate floor.
President Joe Biden, in a somber address Tuesday evening, called on Congress to tighten gun regulations.
“We as a nation have to ask when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby,” Biden said.
Biden was vice president during the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead. Months after that mass shooting, a major push to reform U.S. gun laws, backed by then-President Barack Obama, failed in the Senate.
Trump’s appearance Friday marks his sixth time speaking at the NRA’s annual event. Trump “delivered on his promises by appointing judges who respect and value the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and in doing so helped ensure the freedom of generations of Americans,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said in a statement.