Clutching the shattered shell of a policeman's sidearm, conservative guru Glenn Beck warned the National Rifle Association that a tyrannical US government is bent on taking their guns away.
More than 70,000 members of the nation's premier gun rights organization have flocked to Texas for the NRA's annual meeting, hard on the heels of the defeat of new federal gun laws in the US Senate.
But Beck warned a cheering crowd gathered for a "Stand and Fight Rally" late Saturday that the battle is far from over -- and that there is far more at stake than just gun control.
"They want to fundamentally transform our country and they've just about finished the project," Beck said. "They feel they must regulate us until we comply, but I will not comply." Beck warned that if Americans allow the government to infringe upon their right to 'bear arms' as enshrined in the second amendment of the US Constitution, then every other right and fundamental freedom will also be lost. "The second amendment was written to protect our natural rights, and we have also the responsibility to throw off the chains of tyranny," he claimed.
Beck used historically significant guns as props to illustrate his point in an emotional, nearly two-hour long speech.
The most poignant was that of New York City police officer Walter Weaver, a lifelong NRA member, who died trying to save others in the World Trade Center during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The skeleton of the gun found in the rubble is "a silent token of liberty and freedom," Beck said.
Gun control advocates converged on the Houston convention center hoping to combat the NRA's message with a vigil for the more than 30,000 people killed by guns in the United States every year.
The powerful lobby group -- which claims 4.5 million members plus support from the multibillion dollar firearms industry -- faced its first major challenge in years after a school shooting left 20 young children and six educators dead in Newtown, Connecticut in December.
President Barack Obama pushed hard for tougher gun controls, and finally got a bill onto the Senate floor that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers.
But while the NRA once supported universal background checks, it fought hard against the measure, which was defeated on April 17.
While politics dominated the podium and the chatter among members, the convention also offered gun enthusiasts a chance to check out the latest firearms and accessories from more than 550 exhibitors.
The sprawling showroom floor was filled with visitors peering into rifle scopes and handling revolvers to test their weight and feel.
Many brought their children, who were offered paper headbands die-cut to look like deer antlers and a chance to play at an air-gun shooting range.
There was also plenty on offer for the ladies, like pink rifle barrels, cute handbags with a special compartment for their handguns and even holsters that hooked onto brassieres. Targets came in all sorts of shapes and sizes, including dummy torsos that 'bled' fake blood and others that look like zombies, clowns and kangaroos.
John Geel, a competitive shooter who flew from Virginia to attend the convention, sneered at the idea of government regulations.
"Background checks are a valid means to an end, but they're a smokescreen," he said.
Like many NRA members, Geel thinks the government's ultimate plan is to build a gun registry and eventually confiscate the guns.
Geel believes that taking guns away from law-abiding citizens isn't the way to stop madmen from opening fire on school children. He went on to rail against the "cowards" that "failed to introduce legislation that would directly address the cause of events like Newtown" -- but did not specify what such legislation would look like.
Debbie Sprague, a Texas office worker at the event with her husband, also held politicians in low esteem.
Lawmakers that are "undermining" guns rights are hypocrites because they have armed bodyguards for their own protection, she said..
"It's part of our right to protect ourselves and our families," she said. "Get the criminals off the streets and get the guns out of their hands."