“That’s a shame,” said Raymond Wooten, 67, a retired state trooper.
“They have just as much a right to be here as we do,” his wife added as they turned back toward the convention hall.
Outside the hall, NRA member Alex Antoci, 24, of Houston was trying to talk to the protesters, whose voices were rising.
“I’m just trying to understand your point of view,” Antoci told a woman holding a sign that said “Protect our kids not the NRA.”
“We don’t want to take away your guns,” said the woman, Gwin Bosco, a stay-at-home mom of four from Houston who came to the protest with a local group, Texans for Smart Gun Regulation, for the first time.
Antoci asked whether universal background checks would really stop a determined criminal.
Another protester chimed in: “It would slow him down.”
Antoci and his girlfriend, a fellow NRA member, were not convinced.
“If they can present a reasonable argument that makes sense to me, then yes, I would accept it,” he said. “The problem is everyone is focused on extremes.”
Some men wearing NRA name tags booed as they passed the protesters, shouting, “You all need to find something else to do,” and “I’ve got a gun for my kids — I feel sorry for your kids.”
Some, like a man in a “Got ammo?” T-shirt, just passed or watched from a distance. An activist for Code Pink stopped one passing NRA member and invited her to join protesters reading the names of those killed by guns since Sandy Hook. The NRA member declined.
Lee, the retired Florida professor, and his family were among NRA members who crossed the street to talk with protesters.
“We’re having good conversations,” Lee said. “I shook hands with the grim reaper — he’s a great guy. He owns guns.”
Lee said he regretted tension between the two sides, and hoped both could see what they share as Americans and build on that.
“The people I’ve talked to, they’re listening. Hopefully, they see that we’re just normal people,” he said, repeating a point LaPierre made about how NRA members are average Americans. “If they see that, maybe they see us.”