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For Mayor Mike Rawlings, only some "great guns" are acceptable at the city's convention center.
For Mayor Mike Rawlings, only some "great guns" are acceptable at the city's convention center.
Patrick Michels

Don't Expect Mike Rawlings to Kick the NRA Out of the Convention Center

After another assault-weapon-assisted tragedy, this time at a Florida high school, the usual actors took their usual marks quickly. Thoughts and prayers, so many thoughts and prayers, rang out from Republicans' social media accounts while gun-control supporters retreated to the fatalism that's come from so many mass shootings and so little action over the last two decades.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a self-proclaimed Democrat in a nonpartisan office, made a frustrated, impromptu speech Thursday morning after attending a bank's ribbon-cutting in West Dallas, saying now is the time for a blue-ribbon panel to take on the country's gun problem. Rawlings didn't mention one of the biggest creators of that problem, the National Rifle Association, which will post up at Dallas' Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center for its annual convention in a couple of months.

"I'm so frustrated with the leadership of this country. It's like every time this happens, they're deer in the headlights. And all they can say is, 'Our thoughts and prayers,' and 'This is pure evil,'" Rawlings said. "Kids are dying, people. Don't elect people who won't do anything about it."

The first weekend in May, the NRA, thousands of its members and dozens of conservative politicians will descend on Dallas for the gun-rights organization's annual get-together, which includes a trade show, classes, seminars and a leadership forum. Before 2016, there wouldn't have been a serious question about allowing the group to use the city's space. The convention center, as a public forum, was seen as open to all comers.

Of course, there still isn't a serious question about whether Dallas should tell the NRA to take a hike. This is Dallas, and it's the NRA. But that didn't stop us from us asking one anyway. This is Dallas, and we're the Observer.

In February 2016, the City Council voted 8-7 to ban the Exxxotica porn expo from further use of the convention center although the city was home to one Exxxotica convention the year before. Convention center staff agreed to host a second until some of Dallas' bluer noses got wind that Exxxotica's pastied ladies were booked for a return. At the time, the council members who voted for the ban chalked up their votes to the apparent dangers of pornography, which led to our question.

If Dallas is against dangerous, bad things at the convention center, and Rawlings is all het up about feckless politicians who pray but don't act against violence, why not give the NRA the bird?

Consider these quotes from the council during the Exxxotica vote. Feel free to substitute "guns" or "NRA" whenever you see a reference to sex or porn.

“The truth is pornography is not just a lie, it’s lethal," Adam McGough said before telling the assembled crowd, which included former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and billionaire oilman Ray Hunt, two of Exxxotica's biggest opponents, that he had several friends cursed with an addiction to pornography.

Rawlings defended his vote by calling the event bad publicity for Dallas.

”I do not believe this event is good for our city’s brand,” Rawlings said. “This is a business that participates in the commerce of sex, pure and simple.”

Rawlings said he was going to do what was right for the city, whether he and the council ended up getting sued for it or not. It did. The city won.

Protesters demonstrated outside Exxxotica in 2015.
Protesters demonstrated outside Exxxotica in 2015.
Amy McCarthy

"I don't think it's appropriate to hide behind judges' robes," Rawlings said. "We were very clear that we were going to be sued when we did our decision to limit gas drilling, and we did what we thought was right for the city. Damn the judicial system; we're going to take this on."

In March 2016, Rawlings told the Observer that he believed illegal activity might have occurred during Exxxotica's 2015 event at the convention center, justifying the ban. Dallas vice cops at the events, however, didn't make any arrests.

"We came to a place as a city where I had to make a judgment call. The reason I made it was because I saw some of the YouTube [videos from last year's event] and said, 'Look, I'm mayor of this city, I'm against domestic violence and we've got an S&M thing going on. How do I feel about it? I've gotta vote against that and let the judges do their job," Rawlings said. "I knew that our police activity was really limited. ... When the [Dallas police vice squad] was there, they were just there for an hour here and an hour there to make sure nobody was dead."

In response to questions from the Observer about potentially banning the NRA — which one imagines might not be great for the city's brand — from the convention center, Rawlings' office leaned on the idea that crimes were committed at Exxxotica 2015 and highlighted the fraud claims the city made against Exxxotica and its founder, J. Handy, during the company's lawsuit against the city.

"The Exxotica Convention differs from the NRA Convention in the following respects," the mayor's spokesman, Scott Goldstein, wrote before giving us a list of bullet points:

  • Exxxotica fraudulently misrepresented the existence of the entity that would be leasing the facility.
  • Exxxotica fraudulently represented the manner in which the convention would be operated.
  • Exxxotica permitted operations that violated their own policy of how the convention would be operated.
  • Exxxotica committed Penal Code violations (sexual contact and public lewdness).
  • Exxxotica illegally operated a sexually oriented business.

"If the NRA Convention violates any laws, the mayor will be the first one to advocate for shutting them down in our city," Goldstein said.

That's good to hear because this bears repeating: "Kids are dying, people. Don't elect people who won't do anything about it."

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