City Hall

Here's Why Dallas Can't Do Anything About the NRA Coming to Town

Scenes from the NRA's 2017 convention.
Scenes from the NRA's 2017 convention. Adam Jones
The National Rifle Association is coming to Dallas in May. No matter what Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway says, no matter how many times you call your City Council member and no matter how many times reporters ask Mike Rawlings why naked ladies are bad but AR-15s are OK, it's happening the first weekend in May. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and his Second Amendment absolutist followers will fill the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and the adjacent Omni Hotel bars, listening to Ted Cruz and Tomi Lahren tell them why they're right and everyone else is wrong.

The reason Caraway, Rawlings and every other resident of the city of Dallas can't do anything isn't because the NRA has more right to use the convention center than Exxxotica, the porn convention the City Council voted to stop from coming to the city in 2016, although it does. No, the reason the city can't do anything to keep the NRA out is far more simple: It's already signed a contract with the organization. The city agreed to host the convention in 2012.

If the city backed out now, Dallas attorney Chad Ruback says, "Essentially, that would be the city saying, 'We entered into a contract, and we have buyer's remorse. We don't want to honor our contract. The city wouldn't be claiming, and couldn't be claiming, the NRA somehow tricked the city into signing a contract. ... This is not a bait-and-switch on the part of the NRA.

"If the city did move, hypothetically, to try to back out of the contract, this would be a case of buyer's remorse, where the city knew what it was getting into and then, for whatever reason, political or otherwise, decided to change its mind and breach a contract," Ruback says.

If the NRA pursued the city for its potential breach, Ruback says, a judge would either impose a big fine on the city or, more likely, force the city to allow the NRA to take over the convention center.

Contract aside, Ruback says the NRA situation is different from Exxxotica on constitutional grounds, as well. While the city was able to sidestep Exxxotica's First Amendment claims during the company's lawsuit against the city because Exxxotica's lawyers couldn't argue what viewpoint the city was suppressing by banning Exxxotica, the NRA would have a stronger constitutional claim, Ruback says.

"The Exxxotica lawyers weren't able to come up with any strong viewpoints being expressed by the exhibitors at their convention," Ruback says. "What, specifically, was the viewpoint they were expressing? Pretty tough to name even one. On the other hand, with the NRA, the NRA does have some very specific viewpoints it expresses regularly, not just at its convention. ... Whether you agree with those viewpoints or not is immaterial to the fact that the NRA does regularly express political viewpoints."
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young