(HOUSTON) — Big-name Republicans and gun advocates took to the stage in Houston Friday to make it clear that they are not backing down to an administration that seeks stricter gun control measures.
“We will never back away from our resolve to defend our rights and the rights of all law-abiding American gun owners,” Wayne LaPierre, vice president of the National Rifle Association, told an audience at the NRA’s annual meeting Friday. “We are the law-abiding Americans who believe that liberty is a blessing not bestowed by government but by our creator.”
Though seats in the auditorium were filled with NRA members, the speakers on the stage seemed to speak to their opponents and the national media, taking the opportunity to define themselves in their own words.
“The media and the political elites can lie about us and demonize us all they want, but that won’t stop us,” LaPierre said, “because we who are standing up today in this room and Americans just like us all over this country are standing for who we really are: We are Americans. We are proud of it. And we are going to defend our freedom, we promise you.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry picked up where LaPierre left off, painting a portrait of American gun owners.
“We own guns for sport, for collecting, for self-defense. It’s also a way for us to spend time with those that are closest to us, and I know, personally, many of my fondest memories are hunting with my dad,” Perry said, his voice growing soft with emotion. “The NRA is about safe, sane and responsible gun ownership: beginning, middle and end of story. That’s what the NRA is about.”
High-level Republican lawmakers like Perry and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, condemned the failed push from Democrats as far up as the president to pass in the Senate stricter gun control measures like universal background checks following the shooting deaths of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn, in December.
“In the wake of these tragedies, you can almost set your watch by how long it takes for people who hate guns, hate gun owners, to begin another campaign to add a new set of federal gun laws on the books,” Perry said. “We all have empathy for the families of those who lost loved ones. Everyone does. But the correct response to these tragedies is not another federal law that criminals will simply ignore anyway.”
Some Republicans, like Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, have taken heat in their home states because of their votes against the gun control measures.
But Cruz suggested voters should be going after those senators who did not support a bill he proposed along with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. The bill included more funding for school safety, for prosecuting gun crimes and for the mental health system. It would also have increased punishments for straw purchasers and gun traffickers while expanding some rights for gun owners.
“Citizens ought to ask them: Why aren’t you willing, why don’t you support prosecuting felons and fugitives who try to illegally buy guns,” he told the audience. “They talked about violent crime and yet their proposal didn’t have one penny for prosecuting felons and fugitives or for prosecuting gun crimes.”
He told the audience of gun owners that they were “an army,” and that the failure of the Manchin-Toomey amendment backed by President Obama was their “victory” — “the victory of the American people.”
“But let me caution you,” he added, “this fight isn’t over.”
Other big-name Republicans at the event included Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
It was the first of the NRA’s annual meetings with Birmingham, Ala., attorney, Jim Porter, as president of the organization.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Brian Stelter, CNN
Scott Stuntz, Teton Valley News
Jennifer Rizzo, CNN
Jeremy Diamond, CNN