Friday 15 November 2019

Guns banned at gun convention as US President Trump attends

President Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association event (AP)
President Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association event (AP)

One aspect of seeing President Donald Trump open the National Rifle Association's annual meeting was a bit of a disappointment for otherwise-excited members: No guns were allowed.

Guns are allowed in most public places in Georgia, including in the Georgia World Congress Centre in Atlanta where the NRA is holding its annual meeting this weekend.

But as with most presidential appearances, firearms were banned.

The rule left some attendees feeling a little out of sorts without a sidearm or other weapon they might ordinarily carry to protect themselves.

But many decided they were safe given the event hall was swept hours earlier by the Secret Service, and there were sniffer dogs and metal detectors to get past before getting inside.

"If the president wasn't here, we'd be carrying. We're in the safest place right now," said Mark D Swinson, an NRA-certified instructor who with his wife owns a company that provides firearms training.

But he confessed: "I did feel a little naked."

The NRA gathering is taking place in a sprawling convention centre a short distance from Centennial Olympic Park, where a bomb exploded during the 1996 Summer Olympics.

The nearby CNN centre, which has a food court open to the public on the first floor, has its own history of violence. In 2007, a gunman shot and killed his ex-girlfriend who worked in an adjoining hotel.

It is par for the course that firearms are not allowed in venues where the president is present. The same rule applies for presidential candidates, and when Mr Trump addressed the NRA annual meeting last year, firearms were not allowed then either.

The NRA provided lockers for free so people could stow their firearms while inside the room where Mr Trump was speaking on Friday afternoon.

There were no restrictions in other parts of the convention centre, and after the president's departure attendees could again arm themselves.

To the scores of anti-guns protesters gathered outside the convention hall, the ban on guns inside seemed ironic - and underscored their concerns that firearms make society unsafe.

"They want to allow guns in schools but they don't want to allow them in their own convention," said Helen Peek, an Atlanta resident who joined protesters outside the building. "So they know how lethal they are."

Ms Peek said she decided to join Friday's protest largely because she opposes an NRA-backed Bill that would allow people to carry concealed handguns on college campuses.

The Secret Service has the authority to bar firearms from being carried into places visited by the people they protect, including in open-carry states.

NRA member Christopher Barnett, who lives outside of Palm Beach, Florida, said he did not mind leaving his weapon behind as a standard security precaution for the president.

Bill Scott, a member of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said he would only be worried if there was no security sweep and not the scores of Secret Service agents providing security.

"If there wasn't any of that at this event and they told me no guns, I'd say no way," he added.

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