HOUSTON, Texas — The National Rifle Association has announced it was canceling its annual meeting in Houston due to COVID-19, as the recent surge of the delta variant threatens to overwhelm hospitals throughout Texas.
"Due to concern over the safety of our NRA family and community, we regret to inform you that we have decided to cancel the 2021 Annual Meeting & Exhibits," the group said in a statement. "The NRA’s top priority is ensuring the health and well-being of our members, staff, sponsors, and supporters."
It appears the gun-rights and firearm industry lobbying organization will not reschedule the event, for Sept. 3 to 5, this year. It "looks forward to" its May "Celebration of Freedom" in Louisville, Kentucky, the nonprofit group said.
The group cited data from Harris County, where Houston is located, in its announcement, but it did not mention the statewide spike in COVID-19 cases that has inundated hospitals with patients.
County health officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The NRA, which is operating in the wake of a leadership battle and controversy over how its money has been spent, acknowledged the cancellation will affect "thousands of people," according to its statement.
"Among the highlights of our annual meeting are acres of exhibit space featuring the latest and greatest firearms, the display of countless accessories, and the offering of adventures and group gatherings that many travel hundreds, and some even thousands, of miles to experience," it said.
The NRA said its draw of supporters from across the nation made it especially wary of exposing them in Texas.
"We are mindful that NRA Annual Meeting patrons will return home to family, friends and co-workers from all over the country, so any impacts from the virus could have broader implications," it said.
Shannon Watts, founder of gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action, suggested the NRA has expressed more concern about the impacts of the pandemic than on the impacts of gun violence allegedly enabled, in part, by its push for lax firearms regulation.
"This is probably the only time the NRA has put public health and safety before profits," she said in a statement. "The NRA claims to have analyzed data and consulted with medical professionals and local leaders about the dangers of the pandemic in Texas, but seems to have completely ignored this exact process when it pushed permitless carry through the state’s legislature two months ago."
On its COVID-19 data website, Harris County has warned residents that COVID-19 is a "Severe Threat" and that residents should "Stay Home Unless Fully Vaccinated." It reported 1,000 new cases Tuesdayamid a deadly spike in cases related to the more virulent delta variant.
Texas is averaging 16,000 COVID-19 cases a day. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who has enjoyed the NRA's endorsement and who this year signed legislation allowing carrying handguns without a permit, last month issued an executive order banning vaccination and mask mandates by state government institutions.
The governor's prohibition on mask mandates in schools was put on hold by the Texas Supreme Court.
The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this year, the NRA announced it was moving from its birthplace of New York, where state Attorney General Letitia James has filed a civil suit over alleged misspending of funds, to Texas. It also filed for bankruptcy in reaction to the suit, but a federal judge in Texas rejected the filing.
The suit alleges that NRA leader Wayne LaPierre used organization funds for private jets, personal trips to the Bahamas and hair and makeup expenses. NRA President Carolyn Meadows called James' suit "baseless."