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Guns at the gun convention? Not with the president there

Patrons attending the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum move through security, Friday, April 28, 2017, in Atlanta. The NRA is holding its 146th annual meetings and exhibits forum at the Georgia World Congress Center where President Trump will be speaking. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

ATLANTA (AP) — For the excited NRA faithful, one aspect of seeing President Donald Trump open their annual meeting Friday was a bit of a downer: No guns allowed.

Guns are allowed in most public places in Georgia, including in the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta where the National Rifle Association is holding its annual meeting this weekend. But as with most presidential appearances, firearms weren’t allowed.

The rule left some attendees feeling a little out of sorts without a sidearm or most any kind of weapon they might ordinarily carry, including pepper spray and knives. But many figured they were safe given the event hall was swept hours earlier by the Secret Service, and there were K-9 dogs and metal detectors to get past before getting inside.

“If the president wasn’t here, we’d be carrying. We’re in the safest place right now,” said Mark D. Swinson, an NRA-certified instructor who with his wife owns a company that provides firearms training.

Still, he confessed, “I did feel a little naked getting here” from the hotel, a few blocks away from the conventional hall.

The NRA gathering is taking place in a sprawling convention center a block from CNN and a short distance from Centennial Olympic Park, where a bomb exploded during the 1996 Summer Olympics. The CNN center, which has a food court open to the public on the first floor, has its own history of violence. In 2007, a gunman shot and killed his ex-girlfriend who worked in an adjoining hotel.

It’s par for the course that firearms are not allowed in venues where the president is present. The same holds true for presidential candidates: When Trump addressed the NRA annual meetings last year, firearms weren’t allowed then, either.

The NRA provided lockers for free so people could stow their firearms while inside the room where Trump was speaking Friday afternoon. There weren’t restrictions in other parts of the convention center, and after the president’s departure, attendees can again arm themselves.

To the scores of gun-rights protesters gathered outside the convention hall, the ban on guns inside seemed ironic — and underscored their concerns that guns make society unsafe.

“They want to allow guns in schools but they don’t want to allow them in their own convention,” said Helen Peek, an Atlanta resident who joined protesters outside the building. “So they know how lethal they are.”

Peek said she decided to join Friday’s protest largely because she opposes an NRA-backed bill that would allow people to carry concealed handguns on college campuses; Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal hasn’t said whether he will sign the measure.

The Secret Service has the authority to bar firearms from being carried into places visited by the people they protect, including in open-carry states.

NRA member Christopher Barnett, who lives outside of Palm Beach, Florida, said he didn’t mind leaving his weapon behind as a standard security precaution for the president.

And Bill Scott, a member of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said he would only be worried if there was no security sweep and not the scores of Secret Service agents providing security.

“If there wasn’t any of that at this event and they told me no guns, I’d say no way,” Scott said.

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Associated Press Writers Jill Colvin and Kathleen Foody contributed to this report.

Lisa Marie Pane can be followed on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/lisamariepane

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