SMYRNA — A who’s who of Republican leadership and donors turned up to a popular Smyrna gun shop and firing range Friday evening to take target practice and show their support to the head of the National Rifle Association, who gave a rallying cry to protect gun rights following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, among others.

Adventure Outdoors off South Cobb Drive hosted the fifth annual 11th District GOP Marksmanship Event, which lasted more than four and a half hours and saw a crowd of about 300.

The 11th Congressional District incorporates Bartow and Cherokee counties, as well as parts of Cobb and Fulton.

Attendees milled about the event space, plating barbecue and chatting as 11th District GOP Chairman Brad Carver, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black and other speakers walked to the podium, but when NRA President Carolyn Meadows took the stage, all eyes were locked on her.

Meadows, an east Cobb native and longtime NRA board member, began her speech by thanking state and local politicians for their support and protection of the Second Amendment, but eventually pivoted to respond to recent mass shootings that claimed at least 31 lives in Dayton and El Paso.

Meadows called the attacks “evil acts,” and told the crowd that following those incidents, “lawful gun owners and the NRA are being shamed.”

“We’re called nasty names, and some of us are even harassed. The point is to bully us into retreating from what we know is right — ain’t gonna happen,” said Meadows, who earlier this month hired off-duty Cobb police officers to guard her home. “NRA members and law-abiding Americans, of course as you know, are not the problem.”

While she said the NRA is under attack “in the media, in the courtroom, in the halls of Congress and capitals around the country,” she said the organization “won’t back down,” and will fight for each citizen’s right to own a gun. Guns, she said, are not the problem, adding that “good guys” with guns stop the “bad guys” with them.

Meadows was rewarded with roaring applause.

She closed her speech by urging the crowd, many in MAGA apparel and Trump 2020 accessories, to join the five million-member NRA if they hadn’t already.

“With that, you stand with us to defend our Constitution, our God-given rights and especially the Second Amendment. We’re the good guys and gals, and we still want to protect our country, our loved ones and our family,” she said. “The NRA is still freedom’s safest place.”

Meadows and other speakers also took their opportunities to slam an Aug. 9 tweet from state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, which criticized advertising of the night’s marksmanship event in light of recent shootings.

“Marksmanship Event just two weeks after #ElPaso and #Dayton mass shootings? And GA Republicans wonder why it has lost support of so many suburban women,” Jordan tweeted.

Carver and others thanked Jordan for the tweet, which they said ensured the fifth annual event was the largest so far.

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, who represents the 11th District said Jordan’s tweet was an attempt to connect the marksmanship event to a Democratic political agenda, an attempt he called “insane.”

“Most everybody knows I was involved in a mass shooting in 2017,” Loudermilk said, referring to the June 14 shooting at a practice for an annual charity Congressional baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia. Then-U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others were shot in the incident. “Two months later, I was here at this event. You didn’t hear outcry about this event then. The reason? Because they’re not associated.”

Loudermilk said calls for weapon bans in response to mass shootings are the wrong course of action. Those who want guns will get them, legal or not, he said, and guns do not by themselves take lives.

“The whole time that I was being shot at and I see the shooter there, he was pulling the trigger. That gun never arbitrarily shot by itself. It was him that did the act of evil,” Loudermilk said. “And he was a radical leftist and a Bernie Sanders supporter, but I never brought that up. ... So I think it’s shameful, and it’s disrespectful to the victims that you take an incident like that and you try to use it for political gain, and that’s what they’re doing.”

When asked what solutions to gun violence held merit, the Congressman said red flag laws, which would allow police or family members to petition a state court to temporarily remove firearms from a person could be a danger, could carry some weight. Loudermilk said he may be more supportive of state-administered red flag laws, as opposed to federal.

But, he said, there is more work to be done developing those before they can be seriously considered.

Jason Shepherd, chairman of the Cobb County Republican Party, said Meadows, Loudermilk and others hit the nail on the head with their comments. Shepherd said the vast majority of criminals get their guns illegally. And, he said, taking guns from law-abiding citizens, as some would have it, would only make matters worse.

“If you pass a law taking guns away from law-abiding citizens, law-abiding citizens will give up their guns,” he said. “But every day in America, good people with guns are stopping bad people with guns. ... We practice our Second Amendment rights. We have the ability, as law-abiding citizens to stand up against criminal activity.”

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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