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Romney woos gun owners as NRA targets Obama

15 april 2012, 13:31
US Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney listens to his wife Ann as she addresses the National Rifle Association (NRA) Leadership Forum. ©AFP
US Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney listens to his wife Ann as she addresses the National Rifle Association (NRA) Leadership Forum. ©AFP
White House hopeful Mitt Romney on Friday accused President Barack Obama of attacking economic, religious and individual freedoms as the presumptive Republican nominee wooed gun owners, AFP reports.

His appearance at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting came as the nation is embroiled in a debate over gun control, racism and the criminal justice system following the shooting of a black teen by a neighborhood watch guard.

Romney barely touched upon gun control and made no mention of the controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws which led police to initially decline to file charges in the Florida slaying of Treyvon Martin, 17, because they determined it was a justifiable homicide.

Shooting suspect George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder on Wednesday after a special prosecutor had been appointed to review the case.

Instead, Romney stuck to his stump speech as he urged the powerful gun lobby's members to join him in the fight to "take back our nation and defend our freedoms."

"This administration's attack on freedom extends even to rights explicitly guaranteed by our constitution," Romney told a crowd of 5,500 NRA members gathered in a football stadium attached to the St. Louis convention center where hundreds of exhibitors displayed acres of guns and gear.

Romney vowed to "stand up for the rights of hunters, sportsmen, and those seeking to protect their homes and their families" and "defend the rights President Obama ignores or minimizes."

The White House dismissed the accusation that Obama has undermined gun rights guaranteed by the second amendment to the Constitution.

"The president is focused on common sense actions that protect the Second Amendment rights of Americans while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing law do not get guns," spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, referring to the constitutional portion on the right to bear arms.

The NRA -- which calls itself the nation's oldest civil rights group -- is an influential and highly symbolic lobby group, able to rally millions of dedicated supporters. Romney was not alone in seeking its approval.

The presumptive Republican nominee was joined by rival Newt Gingrich and a virtual who's who of the Republican establishment.

Gingrich called for a new United Nations treaty that would give the right to bear arms to every person on the planet "because every person on the planet deserves the right to defend themselves from those who would oppress them, exploit them, rape them, or kill them."

Rick Santorum, who this week suspended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, also rallied the crowd in a sign that he has deferred rather than abandoned his political ambitions.

The NRA did not endorse Romney, who has been criticized for enacting gun control legislation while governor of Massachusetts, but urged members to fight hard to defeat Obama in November.

"If President Obama gets a second term, America as we know it will be on its way to being lost forever," said NRA chief Wayne LaPierre.

"This election -- it's a fight for our country. It's a fight for our values. It's a fight for our freedom."

Like Romney, LaPierre focused on the November election and made little mention of gun control laws.

While the NRA has been instrumental in introducing Stand Your Ground legislation in 30 states -- laws which now are at risk of repeal -- it has not spoken out publically about the Trayvon Martin case.

The omission was deliberate.

"Charlton Heston used to say, 'Sometimes silence is the right thing to do,'" LaPierre told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "And that really is the case here."

However, at a small seminar on grassroots campaigning in an election year where no news cameras were present, a top NRA executive vowed to defend the laws.

"We don't apologize for supporting legislation that recognizes our rights to defend ourselves," said Chris Cox, director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.

By Mira Oberman

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