“I haven’t heard from President Trump the name of my son, not even once,” said Manuel Oliver, speaking during a student-led rally outside City Hall in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday morning. Hundreds of activists and students gathered to protest the National Rifle Association, which is holding its annual meeting nearby.
“It takes one second ― ‘Joaquin Oliver’ ― and you are not able to mention that name,” he said, addressing Trump directly. “It is important, your support, because you could make things happen along with us. Let me rephrase that: You could make it happen faster, because we are going to make it happen.”
Oliver’s son, Joaquin, was fatally shot alongside 16 other people during the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The survivors of that tragedy, one of the deadliest school shootings in modern U.S. history, have now emerged as leaders of a freshly invigorated national gun control movement, which has set its sights on the NRA.
Oliver live-painted a protest mural in honor of his son, between speeches by gun control activists and students. At the end, he walked onto the stage with a hammer.
“Let’s feel how it feels to be in a school hall and listen to something like this,” he said, before loudly smashing holes in 17 stick figures illustrated on the giant canvas. He then stuck a sunflower through each one.
Just a block away from the protest, thousands of members of the country’s most powerful gun group strolled inside the Kay Hutchison Convention Center, shopping the NRA store, taking seminars and perusing “15 acres of guns and gear” inside the exhibit hall.
The annual convention, now in its 147th year, comes at a particularly tense moment for the NRA. This year’s theme is “a show of strength,” and the NRA appears to be in a defensive posture. In a speech on Friday, the group’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, urged members not to be ashamed.
“What they really want is for you to be afraid to publicly associate with this organization,” he said. “They don’t want you wearing an NRA hat or putting an NRA sticker on your car or truck.”
He encouraged attendees to stand tall and “stand proud.”
Outside City Hall, Rosie Wallace, 29, and Kenna Edwards, 25, said they came to the protest because they want to see fewer school shootings and more common-sense gun reform.
They both admired Oliver’s mural.
“It’s really moving that someone would be so expressive about losing their child and willing to sacrifice their time to make a change for something they believe in,” said Wallace, an environmental scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Edwards, who works at a software company, said she was disappointed in Dallas for allowing the NRA convention to be held there.
“It’s on-brand for Dallas, but as a resident, I don’t like it,” she said.
Julia Heilrayne, an Austin, Texas, high school student, attended the protest with a red target printed on her forehead. She spoke with HuffPost at a smaller protest in front of City Hall the night before. Since the Parkland shooting, she said, students at her school are skittish if they hear a loud noise, like a chip bag popping in the cafeteria.
“You can drop a textbook in the hallway, and everyone freezes,” she said.
Heilrayne said she got involved in the gun control movement after a friend of hers ― a third-grader ― was shot and killed in 2017.
“I had to fight for her,” she said. “I had to be her voice, because she doesn’t have one any more.”
After the gun control protest wrapped up, a group of counterprotesters gathered nearby openly carrying firearms.
Lawrence Solem, 40, a machinery mechanic from Lewisville, Texas, said he wanted to show his support for the right to carry.
“Evil can and always will exist in the world,” he said. “Evil doesn’t care about time or location. That’s why it’s safest to carry at all times.”