HOUSTON // Clutching the shattered shell of a policeman's sidearm, a conservative media personality, Glenn Beck, warned the National Rifle Association (NRA) that a tyrannical US government was bent on taking their guns away.
More than 70,000 members of the nation's premier gun-rights organisation flocked to Texas for the NRA's three-day annual meeting, hard on the heels of the defeat of new federal gun laws in the Senate.
But Beck warned a cheering crowd gathered for a "Stand and Fight Rally" 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 told Saturday's crowd. "They feel they must regulate us until we comply, but I will not comply."
Beck said 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.
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 a New York City police officer, Walter Weaver, a lifelong NRA member, who died trying to save others in the World Trade Centre during the 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 centre hoping to counter the NRA's message with a vigil for the more than 30,000 people killed by guns in the US every year.
The NRA, 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.
The US president, Barack Obama, pushed hard for tougher gun controls and finally got a bill on to 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 made to look like deer antlers and a chance to play at an airgun shooting range.
Debbie Sprague, a Texas office worker at the event with her husband, held politicians in low esteem. Legislators who were "undermining" gun rights were hypocrites because they had armed bodyguards, 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."