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Months After Florida School Shooting, NRA Holds Annual Meeting

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The NRA opens its annual meeting today in Dallas. This is the first such conference since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., back in February. The protests that followed that changed the tone of the gun debate. So one question is how this will affect a gathering of the NRA's most loyal members. Ben Weger joins me now from San Antonio. He is a physician, lifetime member of the NRA. He teaches firearm safety, and this is going to be the first NRA conference he has ever attended. Dr. Weger, welcome to the program.

BEN WEGER: Good morning.

GREENE: So you're heading, I understand, to Dallas tomorrow to go to the conference. Who are you bringing with you?

WEGER: Taking the family with me. So my wife. And I have three daughters.

GREENE: OK. And what are you, what are they looking forward to the most?

WEGER: Well, I'm looking forward to seeing all the vendors that are out there. There are some really creative folks that have a lot sort of, you know, interesting, you know, items that they're bringing to the table there. And there's a lot of seminars that are pretty educational that are there. My kids, although, are super, super stoked for Sunday when it's the kids' day and there's air guns that are there and there's the Eddie the Eagle zone and there's lots of really good youth programs.

GREENE: We heard there are, like, something like 20 acres of, you know, expo material and firearms and so forth. Sounds like a lot to get through. The shooting at Parkland certainly feels like it changed the debate over guns in a significant way. Has it changed the way you think about the gun conversation?

WEGER: Yeah. It has, actually. And I think that it's very easy to be very polarized because it makes us feel good when it's us versus them, and they're the bad guy and we're the good guy. And I think it's really, you know, caused a reframing of the situation where we can take a step back and go, what can we all agree on to do, and what can we work with that everyone can live with? And understanding that, you know, not everyone is going to be super pro-gun and not everyone's going to be super anti-gun. And that, you know, ultimately it comes down to choosing safety, and that's what we try to really foster, is safety and responsible living and taking charge of your own personal safety.

GREENE: What is something you could live with or you would be willing to sacrifice as a gun owner now in this climate that maybe you weren't in the past?

WEGER: Well, I think that the biggest thing we need to do is work with and fix the situations that we have. If you look at the background checks, how do we make them the most effective that we can? How do we streamline the process of getting prohibited persons in there? And I think that whatever we do, we should protect the rights of all citizens in the United States, and that we, you know, need to make the process, you know, as simple as we can and keep the bad guys from getting guns and let all the good guys get the guns that they want to protect themselves on there. And I think that by streamlining, you know, the NICS system, I think that would be really the first step that would be really good to make, you know, the process better. I don't think we need to add more things to it that aren't working as well as we'd like to. So fix what we have and then re-evaluate.

GREENE: Just briefly, I mean, do you think the NRA could be doing something different in this situation? Are they responsible for some of the polarization you're talking about?

WEGER: I think both gun owners and non-gun owners are responsible for a situation because we've allowed ourselves to fall into a trap of being very oppositional. What I would like to see the conversation going to, how can we choose safety? How can we choose responsibility in a way that helps keep everyone safe and protects our families, and we can live with each other and, you know, walk down the halls and talk to each other every day and get along pretty well?

GREENE: Ben Weger is heading to the NRA meeting in Dallas. Thanks so much for joining us.

WEGER: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.