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INDIANAPOLIS – The National Rifle Association has kicked off its annual convention in Indianapolis. It comes amid a heightened debate over gun legislation following several recent mass shootings.

Several Republicans who are running for president in 2024 or thinking about jumping in the race addressed NRA members Friday, including former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.

The event gathers roughly 70,000 NRA members each year. It’s the third time in a decade the event has come to Indianapolis.

“You won’t find a place in America more supportive of your, our Second Amendment than here in Indiana,” Gov. Eric Holcomb told the crowd.

The national debate over gun rights looms large over the annual gathering. The event has kicked off days after the bank shooting in Louisville, weeks after a school shooting in Nashville and on the eve of the second anniversary of the FedEx shooting that happened miles away.

“I’m worried about it because there’s an element to this society that don’t think that we should have guns,” said Lorraine Root, a visitor from Michigan who is attending the convention.

“I don’t think it’s a gun issue as much as it is a people issue,” said Jerry Smith, another attendee.

That was the message echoed by several 2024 presidential hopefuls.

“We stood without apology for the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” Pence said of the Trump administration.

Pence, the former Indiana governor who is considering a run for president, said he believes mental health care and school security should be the focus in Washington, D.C.

“I think the time has come for leaders in our nation’s capital to give every community in the country the funds to place armed resource officers in every public and private school in America,” Pence said.

Trump spoke on the Second Amendment and promised attendees that “no one will lay a finger on your firearms” if he is elected as president in 2024.

“We saved our Second Amendment and we’re gonna save it for a long time to come. It’s under siege but we’re gonna save it for a long time to come,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, Democrats have criticized the Republicans speaking at the event. They argue the NRA is part of the problem when it comes to mass shootings.

“The Republican party continues to put the gun industry and the gun makers before the safety of our kids and our families,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) told reporters Thursday.

The NRA convention runs through Sunday.