The protest was organized by several advocacy groups – including Moms Demand Action, March for Our Lives, the Harris County Democratic Party, and Black Lives Matter Houston – and featured speeches from gun control advocates who called for swift legislative measures from elected leaders to protect schoolchildren.
The event took place in Discovery Green Park across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center where the annual gun convention is taking place. The protest comes after 19 children and two adults were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday.
O’Rourke, this year’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Texas, stressed that “the lives of our kids are literally on the ballot” in November’s election.
O’Rourke, speaking at the protest outside the NRA conference, addressed those gathered inside, saying “You are not our enemies. We are not yours. We extend our hand open and unarmed in a gesture of peace and fellowship to welcome you to join us to make sure that this no longer happens in this country. But the time for you to respond and to join us is now.”
And he warned that if the NRA and its supporters don’t change course and seek common ground on measures to stem gun violence, “we will defeat you, and we will overcome you, and we will leave you behind.”
O’Rourke grabbed national attention in the 2018 midterms by coming close to upsetting conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas before launching an unsuccessful bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Liz Hanks, the leader of the Texas chapter of the gun control group Moms Demand Action, was one of the main organizers of the event and spoke to those in attendance.
“There is worldwide media here today and do you know why?” Hanks asked. “Because we are an embarrassment around the entire world, because we can’t protect our children in their schools. We can’t protect out children at our churches. We can’t protect our community members in their grocery stores. We can’t protect people driving down the street.”
“We know how to fix this problem,” she added. “We have data that shows us how we fix it.”
Hanks then urged the crowd to turn to the convention center and “let them know how you feel about how they have not taken action on this issue.”
“Shame on you,” Hanks said as the crowd began chanting “shame” and making obscene gestures towards the center and those in attendance.
Linda Bennett, who has lived in Houston for the past eight years, told Fox News Digital she wanted to protest because she is “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
“The governor that we have now is not going to change any gun laws … assault weapons kill lots of people in a five-minute period.” Bennett said.
Asked what she believes should be done to immediately address the situation, Bennett said, “The first thing is to ban assault weapons.”
“Nobody needs an assault weapon to protect themselves or their family, absolutely not,” she said. “Assault weapons are weapons of war. We’re not at war, so there’s no reason for anyone in this country to own one and it’s shocking to know there are more guns in the United States than there are people. Just let that sink in.”
Francisco Martinez told Fox News Digital that he and his wife Mary traveled more than 10 hours from Roswell, New Mexico, to protest in Houston.
“We drove because we care and we both want to stand up for school kids who cannot speak for themselves,” Martinez said. “When will the madness end? This is not hard to solve. How many more will die because politicians do not care?”
“The country is so divided right now and this is a problem everyone wants a solution to,” he added. “Now is the time to work together and put school kids first.”
Several elected officials in Texas were initially slated to speak in person at the NRA convention, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, but those plans were later altered.
On Friday, it was announced that Abbott would deliver a pre-taped video message to those attending the convention and instead travel to Uvalde instead. Patrick announced Friday that he would not be speaking at the convention in an effort to “focus on the families” affected by the school shooting.
“Gov. Abbott will be delivering remarks via pre-recorded video to the NRA Conference,” Abbott campaign spokesman Mark Miner said in a statement on Friday. “He will be going to Uvalde today.”
Despite numerous withdrawals from the event, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former President Trump have stated they will still give remarks at the convention.
In addition to political leaders addressing the event, the convention also features 14 acres of the latest guns and gear from gun manufacturers, seminars ranging from concealed carry to how gun owners can best interact with law enforcement, and other events related to firearm safety.