Holcomb, Pence and Braun address thousands at NRA Convention

By: - April 14, 2023 5:39 pm

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb speaks to guests at the 2023 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum on April 14, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The forum is part of the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meetings & Exhibits, which begins today and runs through Sunday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, former Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, a gubernatorial candidate for 2024, called for fighters to continue defending firearm access at the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) Convention in Indianapolis Friday.

“We fully exercise our constitutional rights and we invest in those who protect them … you won’t find a place more supportive of your — of our — Second Amendment than here in Indiana,” Holcomb told the crowd of thousands. 

Holcomb, Pence and Braun appeared as featured speakers for the organization’s Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum, the lobbying arm of the NRA, on Friday.

The two current elected leaders spoke after NRA President Charles Cotton and Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s embattled executive vice president and CEO. 

LaPierre praised Holcomb for signing NRA-approved bills eliminating Indiana’s permitting system for gun owners.

“Law-abiding gun owners no longer have to get government permission to carry,” LaPierre said. “You don’t need government to tell you the sky is blue, water’s wet or that you have the God-given right to self defense.”

The forum ended with a speech by former President Donald Trump, whose presence attracted thousands of supporters, who greeted him by chanting, “USA! USA!” 

Former governors, governor hopefuls speak

The NRA convention crowd greeted former Vice President and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence with boos, the only speaker to receive such a response. 

He acknowledged the two recent shootings in Kentucky and Tennessee, which together killed over a dozen people, including three 9-year-old children.

Former Vice President Mike Pence took the stage to boos Friday but still championed Second Amendment rights. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

“Democrats have returned to the same, tired arguments about gun control and gun confiscation,” Pence said. “But we don’t need gun control; we need crime control. We don’t need lectures about the liberties of law-abiding citizens, we need solutions to protect our kids.”

Pence called for an “accelerated” federal death penalty statute to punish the mass shooters not killed by responding law enforcement officers, in order to kill offenders “within months, not years.”

He additionally blamed much of the violence on those with severe mental illnesses, who are 10 times more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators. And he pushed against releasing those with severe mental illnesses from prisons – which are some of the nation’s biggest mental health treatment centers.

“The answer to mass shootings is not fewer guns, but it’s more institutional mental health,” Pence said. “Today more than 20% of our prison population have serious mental illnesses … The truth is these people shouldn’t leave the prison because they never should have been allowed on the streets to commit a crime.”

Gubernatorial candidate Sen. Mike Braun at the NRA Convention on April 14, 2023. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Braun repeated Pence’s comments about mental health and crime at the NRA convention, calling himself the “feistiest and most conservative” defender in the Senate fighting against “government overreach.”

“Some people on the other side of the aisle want the government to completely replace our productive economy and nuclear families in our lives,” Braun said. “Hoosiers understand that the right to life, liberty and happiness depends on the right to defend ourselves and our families.”

Braun launched his gubernatorial bid in December. He faces two other Republican candidates in the primary race for governor: Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden.

Three other governors, both current and former, addressed the crowd: former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.

Democrat response to NRA Convention

Earlier in the week, Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, honored the NRA with a Senate resolution signed by 38 of the chamber’s 40 Republicans. Senate Democrats declined to speak out against the resolution and later made a statement from the floor calling for “common sense” gun legislation. 

State Democrats took a harder stance, calling for elected officials to take action to stop “senseless” violence, noting several recent mass shootings that captured national attention.

“Hoosier Democrats believe we must do more to protect our children and communities from gun violence,” said Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl in a statement. “We can do this in a way that respects the Second Amendment by putting in place reforms that are not only supported by a majority of Americans – but also by a majority of gun owners.”

“By embracing the NRA this week, Indiana Republicans are making it clear that they accept the incomprehensible and the majority-opposed status quo,” he continued.

Thousands will attend the NRA convention this weekend and peruse hundreds of vendor exhibits displaying the latest firearm technology for various models, from assault weapons to revolvers.


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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.