Over the weekend, scores of gun owners descended on Houston, where the National Rifle Association held its 142nd annual meeting. More than 500 exhibitors – displaying handguns, shotguns, rifles, scopes, knives, home entertainment games, targets, safari hunting trips, ATVs, jewelry and other accessories — came to make sales and connections. Classes in women's self-defense and game cooking were held; children took aim at the air gun range; and a gun rights rally, “Stand and Fight,” was held Saturday night. Many conference-goers were native Texans, but others came from such far-flung corners as Wisconsin, Florida and Utah. Some even made the trek a family vacation.
We met dozens of attendees at the NRA’s annual meeting. These are just a few of the faces of today’s NRA.
Don Svetanics, 47, flew in from St. Louis to go to the show with his dad and brother. He has attended two previous NRA shows.
“I love guns and the Second Amendment and everything about the Constitution. I think it's important to defend our right to own a gun.
“I have 60 (guns) — about 30 handguns and about 30 long guns, shotguns, rifles, semiautos, revolvers.
“I hunt some. I like just going into my backyard and shooting. I guess if you need them for defense, that would be an option, too. … My favorite is a Smith & Wesson revolver, but I really like the semiautomatics, too.
“I think our leaders voting down all the gun bans last two weeks ago was very important.”
(Captions by Miranda Leitsinger / NBC News)
Frank Thomas pictured with his son, Tucker, 7. Thomas, 45, is a real estate agent in The Woodlands, a suburb north of Houston. He came to the show with his dad and two sons.
“In my opinion, you always have to be an owner of at least one or two (firearms), mainly just because of protection more than anything. I am making sure those two (sons) know how to shoot a gun or handle one if they come across it.
“(I go to the shooting range) all the time, every week. It's fun, that's all. I hunt a lot, too.”
•Story: NRA's LaPierre: 'We will never surrender our guns'
Will Ayers, 7, fires a gun at the air gun range at the NRA meeting. Robby, his dad: “I grew up with shooting and hunting, and it’s something I enjoyed... I believe it kept me and the male role models close. It was fun, a bonding experience that I enjoyed, and I’ve continued it with him. He enjoys getting out and shooting. It’s just us. It’s our 'me' time. It’s where we get out and nobody messes with us. Just us and good ol' mother nature.”
Will: "I like the shooting range part and looking at the knives and guns because they look cool. There are a lot of designs you get to see, and they come in a lot of different colors.”
•Story: Guns made for kids: How young is too young to shoot?
John Stuckey, left, and his brother Lee came to the NRA meeting to test out and browse guns at the show
John: "We're just seeing the different products available. Nothing better to do on a Saturday. [Lee] has a lot of firearms – you can play games, target practice. But no hunting.
"We are into sniper rifles, long-range rifles. Whenever I was a kid I used to go out into the woods to see how far I could shoot. I'm not so much the machine gun type — I like to see how skilled I can be and shoot from far away. It's just one bullet at a time."
Asher Belles, a 39-year-old consultant in Houston, took a long lunch to check out the show. He is thinking of becoming an NRA member.
“I just wanted to see what the leadership conference was all about. I'll probably join up. I just think that the organization does a very good job of promoting safety and freedom in America.
“I have lots of friends who are owners and go out shooting. It's just kind of a way they hang out. [But] if I had a weapon, it would really be only for personal safety. I've gone out shooting once. It was fun, but I don't know if it would be a weekend activity. It wouldn't be my golf fetish or anything.”
Don Horton, 73, and his son, Matt Horton, 36, both from Houston, Tex., are card-carrying members of the NRA. Matt said his dad taught him how to shoot when he was five or six years old, and they used to hunt together.
Don: “We both have the same interests. I've been handling guns since I was a little bitty kid. There's not anything in here I'm not familiar with — I’ve shot most of them. It's just seeing what's new and things that I would like to have but never will have because [I] don't have the need for it anymore. Not much use in having a hand-loading operation [that allows one to make his own ammunition] in a metropolitan city.”
Matt: “It's just fun to get out and shoot and keep the practice alive. If you don't keep up your marksmanship, then [it] can die off. Not enough people know how to handle guns anymore. Like little kids, I feel like a lot of times they're taught to be afraid of any firearm whatsoever. [My dad] taught me at an early age what the gun was about and that it's a tool, and that while it's dangerous but it has very specific uses.”
Dave Wade, 43, with son Charles, 12; Jessie Dunbar, 12; and her dad, Brent Dunbar, 43, a physical therapist from Gatesville, Texas.
Brent Dunbar, his wife and their two children checked out the offerings at the NRA show, including a home entertainment shooting game. Dunbar picked up some triggers, while his daughter, Jessie, got her stock – pink in color – signed by some winners of “Top Shot.” Jessie is a member of 4-H, in which she participates in rifle shooting and archery competitions.
"I've never been to [an NRA meeting] before," said Dunbar. "I wanted to see what it was about. Every time you have a gun owner, you have somebody that's instilling their own rights. ... When you don't protect your Constitution, then your rights, your liberties get removed from you. That's kind of what [the government has] been trying to do.
“It was difficult,” Jessie said of the home entertainment game. “I'm not used to pistols. … I do rifles.”
“It's usually easier to teach kids with a rifle before it is a pistol; a lot harder to control a pistol than it is a rifle,” said Brent Dunbar.
Sisters Joyce Wagner, left, 71, of Mountain Home, Ark., and Clara Overturf, 66, of Rockwall Texas, are first-time gun users. They were looking for a gun to purchase at the NRA show.
Overturf: “We both just finished our concealed handgun classes. I'm 66 years old. Never owned a gun before, never shot a gun. And I'm tired of Obama and them trying to tell me I can't have one. … My husband is disabled, and I'm the only protector. I want my license, and I'm proud to have my NRA card.”
Wagner: “I want to initiate my right to carry a gun and support the Second Amendment. I fear that's being taken away.”
Erik Cornelius, 42, is a competition shooter from Horsens, Denmark.
“I joined the NRA to help my American friends. Right now, I think I'm also helping myself because had this new gun ban law been passed so that you would have a 10-round magazine capacity in the U.S. of A., I think my government in Denmark would say, 'Oh, could they do that over there? Then we might be able to do it over here as well.' And really it doesn't help anything besides ruining a few divisions within shooting sport.
“I've been shooting pistols since forever. Guns are almost outlawed in Denmark, but we still have all these shootings. So it's not the same discussion [as in the U.S.]. We have guns in gun clubs, and I have my guns at home, but to get a handgun permit in Denmark, you'll have to have been an active shooting member of a gun club for two years.”
Brianna Chamberlain, 39, of Salt Lake City makes earrings, necklaces and bracelets from brass and silver gun casings. She exhibited her jewelry at the NRA show next to her husband, whose firm has developed a biometric ID gun grip. They are raising four children.
“I just started taking the casings and creating kind of lifestyle pieces that would be sophisticated but would also represent something that is a sport for a lot of women. It looks elegant and sophisticated, but it's not so blatant.
“I have learned to shoot. My husband has really exposed me to it because I was someone that was nervous. He really helped me to become more comfortable. It was something that I had to understand. It was something I was fearful of. I've come around to realize that for a lot of people it's a sport.”
NRA convention volunteers Dan Lendvay, left, from High Falls, N.Y., and Thomas Ulki, right, from Washington, D.C., sell raffle tickets for a chance to win the Leman .54 Trade Rifle that Charlton Heston used in “The Mountain Men,” filmed in 1979.
Victor Moore and his wife, Michele, both 32, recently moved to Houston from Washington state. Victor served seven years in the Army, and both will be full-time students this fall.
Victor: “Firearms and such have been part of my life for a long time. I own quite a few. And so for us, it's important to support something that you hold dear and something that you believe in strongly.
“We both are concealed-carry holders. … It's a part of our daily life, like putting on your shoes. You have the ability to protect yourself.”
Michele: “I carry my Smith & Wesson Airlight [a .38] … in my bag, at all times.”
Victor: “My preference just because of my service is my AR-15… [And] I like to collect firearms — they fascinate me. We go to shooting ranges. I've thought about going hunting, but it's just more of something that's like a piece of Americana. Some people, they have old gas station signs. It's just part of what we are.”
Raj Singh, 47, and his wife, Daman, 42, from Carol Stream, Ill. Singh's father began the family business of offering specialty grips for guns in 1971. Raj, a member of a Sikh family that originally hails from Amritsar, India, runs the business with his wife.
"I grew up here with these people, and I built great friendships here. This is where I'm in my element because a lot of people, they are accepting. We're very comfortable.
“[The business] started in the basement of our house. And then like the true American story, it started and people started liking the grips that my father made. He's a maverick in this business. He had a turban and he had all of these people listen to him. It's something about these people, they're accepting.
“I love guns. I love the beauty of the aesthetics. I love the design."
Brandy Guilkey, 35, of Weatherford, Texas, near Fort Worth, said her grandfather taught her to shoot. She came to the NRA show on the “spur of the moment” and to see Glenn Beck speak. She works in customer service.
“My son participates in shooting sports. He shoots rifle and shotgun and pistol for 4-H. I own several [firearms]. I enjoy shooting. Target shooting to me is a stress reliever. Between my son and I, we're usually at the range three or four times a week.
“I'm not a girlie girl. Some girls like shoes, some girls like purses, some girls like firearms. I have several different brands. Some people like the smaller concealed [types], some people like long guns. It's all personal preference — I have both. We have long guns, handguns, compound bows, crossbows. We have a little bit of everything.
“Minus a cannon. I don't think I want one of those.”
Barry Stewart, 51, is a writer and filmmaker living in South Texas.
“The Second Amendment is about personal protection, and it's about the right for the citizens to defend themselves against their own government. Our forefathers firmly believed that if they guaranteed our right to this, then we would keep the government in check.
“My AR-15 is my favorite. I use it nearly exclusively, especially when I'm out in West Texas and I'm trying to control problem animals like coyotes, or down in South Texas with hogs … because that quick follow-up shot with an AR-15 definitely has a sporting use.”
Mason James, 10, came with his dad, Rick James, 50, to the show from Friendswood, Texas. He started shooting with Nerf darts, then an air rifle, and is moving his way up to a shotgun. He does skeet shooting and has gone hunting with his dad.
Mason: “I like to shoot the 20-gauge shotgun. … I'm OK with it."
Rick: “He does pretty good. He's just learning. This is his first year to be big enough to hold a full-size shotgun. He's not intimidated by it. It gives us an opportunity to spend some father-son time together. It gives me a chance to teach him about firearms safety.
“We're very cautious. … Nothing loaded in the house ever. Guns are dangerous tools, not toys. He's shot all the time [since he] was little. … I learned from my dad growing up, the same way.”
Kris Hammerstrom, 29, a machinist and team shooter for firearms maker Kel-Tec CNC Inc., based out of Cocoa, Fla., bears tattoos showing his support for gun rights. He shoots every weekend and was at the NRA show with Kel-Tec.
“I've loved guns my entire life. They've been a part of American history and heritage. I'm teaching my daughter now. [She’s] seven. She's going to start sport shooting in the next couple years. If it's taught responsibly, it's a great activity. And I just love shooting, too.
“[My daughter] was a little leery about it at first just because of how loud it was, but I got her her own pink earmuffs and everything. I’m starting her off with the pellet guns now — the lighter stuff so it's not so loud.
“[Shooting is] just a pastime activity that I've grown up with. I've enjoyed it my whole life, and I want to pass it on to her.”
Kate Van Voris with her husband, Derek, her two teenage stepsons, Alexander and Austin, daughter Cora and uncle Rick Chandler and the couple's 3-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son, Brighton, from West Point, Utah. Derek has a small shooting supply store.
Kate: “I've been shooting off and on for the last 10 years. But I'm really an amateur. I want my husband to teach me more because my husband is an ex-cop and an Army vet. He is really into preparedness and making sure that he can take care of his family."
Kate Van Voris, 29, with 9-month-old son Brighton, from West Point, Utah.
“My boys have both shot buffaloes, and we're planning for my daughter to go shooting with my husband when she is 8 or 12 or so. I need to learn about shooting my gun better. I don't carry yet, but I like the idea of being able to, when my husband isn't home, to protect my kids.”
•Story: 'I am a mom with a gun': Why I'll teach my girls to shoot