PITTSBURGH (AP) — A discussion of the January shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabriel Giffords is not on the agenda of the NRA's annual meeting, though some members attending expect opposing groups and others to try to make it one.
"The people in here don't pose a threat to society," said Gara Gifford, 60. She's not an NRA member, though her husband Gary, 61, is. "That guy who got Gabrielle Giffords was just off his rocker."
On Friday, Giffords is scheduled to make a public appearance at her husband's space shuttle launch in Florida. It will be the first time she's emerged from care since the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that left six people dead and 13 wounded, included Giffords.
But attendees of the National Rifle Association's 140th annual Meetings & Exhibits at Pittsburgh's convention center told The Associated Press on Thursday that the timing, while coincidental, is expected to give gun control, anti-gun and media organizations NRA supporters believe are biased against the group, a reason to raise the issue.
"It is relevant, but only because of the simple fact that it's being used" by gun opponents, said Dale Clingan, 51, a truck driver and certified NRA firearms instructor from Harrison, Tenn. "Anytime there's an incident like that, that happens that's bad, those groups use it — but you don't see it when there's a mother of three protecting her family with a gun."
The convention lasts through Sunday and will play host to several politicians and presidential aspirants, including Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, who will speak at David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
Larry Branson, 76, of Flat Rock, Ill., frequently visits Tucson, but said he doesn't think the Giffords shooting is on the minds of most people at the convention.
"Well, it depends on the kind of people you're talking about," said Branson, an NRA member since 1956. "There's people who are against us and they'll pick up on any shooting to try to make an issue of it." His comments were met with nods of agreement by his wife, and another Flat Rock couple sitting on a bench, waiting for an NRA merchandise store to open.
Still, the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence is raising the issue.
The national group says some local activists plan to march to the convention center and read a name of recent shooting victims on Saturday. The group has also invited Patricia Maisch, a 62-year-old Arizona woman who wrestled away an ammunition clip from suspected Giffords shooter Jared Loughner, to attend the demonstration.
NRA members in Pittsburgh expressed a great deal of sympathy for Giffords, but several said Loughner was so obviously deranged it's hard to learn any lessons or draw any conclusions about guns and gun laws from the mass shooting.
"That was an undisciplined mad man and law enforcement failed, his parents failed," said Clingan, who said improvements must be made to keep people with mental problems from owning guns. But he said that's difficult because groups that advocate for mentally ill people argue against the very labels he believes should show up more frequently in federal background checks.
"We're such a politically correct society, we don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. But I'm sure Ms. Giffords wouldn't mind if someone's feelings were hurt now if it would have kept a gun out of his hands," Clingan said.
Gara Gifford said a different thought came to mind about Giffords and her travels to Florida.
"I'm really glad that she was able to go down there and see her husband," she said.
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