American flag and dog tag in tow, this veteran went to the NRA convention to protest

Military veteran Dave Lyles stands outside the NRA convention in Dallas on May 4, 2018, to protest regular citizens owning AR-15s.
Military veteran Dave Lyles stands outside the NRA convention in Dallas on May 4, 2018, to protest regular citizens owning AR-15s. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Dave Lyles came to the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting alone, American flag in tow and dog tag on, to take up a corner outside the convention center and hold a sign painted with #NEVERAGAIN in red and illustrated with bullet holes.

Chris Griese drove to the meeting from Indiana, NRA membership badge on with a “patron” ribbon dangling from his neck. Griese teaches classes on firearms and lives for that moment his students “see the light” — that they notice how a gun is a tool, not something to be feared.

Walking up to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas on Friday, he noticed Lyles was alone and went up to shake his hand.

The National Rifle Association didn't begin as the political power we know today. It was the poor shooting skills of Northern soldiers during the Civil War that led a group of Union Army veterans to form the group with a focus on marksmanship.

“Thanks for what you’re doing, man,” he said. “It takes a lot being out here.”

A group of four protesters for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals stood next to Lyles, also calling for a ban on AR-15s (and pointing out violence against “non-human animals”). A billboard from Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control nonprofit, made laps around the convention center. But other than that, Lyles stood by himself.

It’s cliché, Griese said, but he’s a big believer in the First Amendment and the Second Amendment.

Lyles served in the military and was an expert marksman, and said he’s a believer in the Second Amendment too: he just thinks AR-15s should be reserved for police and military, not laypeople (he should know, he added, he shot them plenty during his service). Griese respects people who served in the military, but hasn’t had the honor.

Both said they set out to find some sort of civil discourse at an event with the most polarizing combination of factors in the country: The National Rifle Association’s first annual meeting in the wake of the Parkland shootings, featuring both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence as speakers.

President Donald Trump & Vice-President Mike Pence will speak at the National Rifle Association's 147th Annual Meetings at the Dallas Convention Center. Attendees will not be allowed to carry weapons, legal in Texas, during the White House visit.

“These discussions are where things happen as opposed to a billboard driving around,” Griese said. “There’s so much polarization from this country from the top down to you and me.”

There’s no real gun law Griese would change. But he’s a gun trainer. A $400 gun should come with $400 worth of training. It’s a responsibility. He thinks that carrying a firearm can deter violence. But he gets that these arguments are emotional.

“This should’ve happened 20 years ago,” Lyles, who has lived in Dallas for 30 years, said of the gun debate. He is a decorative painter and considers himself a progressive. But progressives haven’t done enough for working people, he said. (It’s the NRA crowd whom progressives should be reaching out to, he added.)

“Hello,” Lyles called as a new group of convention-goers filed past him. “Welcome to Dallas.”

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