RENO, Nev. National Rifle Association leaders took credit for President Bush's election Saturday, saying they're taking aim next at unseating gun control advocates in Congress and defeating campaign finance reform in court.
"You are why Al Gore isn't in the White House," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told more than 4,500 delegates at the NRA's 131st annual meeting.
"No other group could have done what we did collectively in 2000, and now it's time to finish the job," NRA lobbyist James Jay Baker said. "The Senate is the hole in our armor. ... The Senate is our battleground."
Georgia Sen. Zell Miller, the first Democrat to give the NRA's keynote address in more than a decade, agreed that Gore's stands on gun rights cost him key states, including Arkansas, West Virginia and Tennessee.
"I recall the surprise of national Democratic leaders at losing those states in the presidential election," Miller, a longtime NRA member, said in a speech to more than 2,000 members at Saturday night's banquet.
"All their expert pollsters said voters favored some kind of gun control. ... Well, I stand with heartfelt conviction over a political wind gauge any day.
"Like many of you, I've got more guns than I need, but not as many as I want... There is nowhere I'd rather be tonight than right here with you, on the picket line of freedom's defense," he said to loud applause.
NRA President Charlton Heston narrated an 8-minute videotape on Ronald Reagan who in 1983 became the first sitting president to address an NRA convention before he told the cheering crowd he would grant their wish to stay on for an unprecedented fifth term.
"After all we did in the 2000 elections, I think we deserve a personal visit from President Bush next year, don't you?" Heston said. The 78-year-old actor then held up an 1874 rifle and reprised a signature line: "From my cold dead hands."
The crown booed the mention of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., lead sponsor of the campaign finance reforms that the NRA is challenging.
LaPierre said the group "must grow larger and tougher" to fend off attempts to implement waiting periods on gun purchases at gun shows, protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits and defend First Amendment freedom of speech in the form of campaign advertising.
LaPierre said those who would restrict gun rights are engaged in "political terrorism."
"It's a far greater threat to freedom than any foreign force," he said.
Leaders also took aim at anti-gun groups they say operate under the banner of "gun safety."
"We invented gun safety," said Craig Sandler, NRA director of general operations. "What does the Violence Policy Center know or do about gun safety? ... What does the Million Mom March know or do about gun safety?"
Rocker Ted Nugent was helping with recruitment at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, where as many as 35,000 people were expected to visit by the time the convention concludes Monday.
"If you are not a member of the NRA, you really aren't performing your 'we-the-people duty' in this nation," said Nugent, a hunting enthusiast and NRA board member.
Copyright 2002 Associated Press