- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rudolph W. Giuliani yesterday assured members of the National Rifle Association he would protect their Second Amendment rights while his rivals for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination criticized his inconsistent record.

While former Sen. Fred Thompson drew enthusiastic applause for boldly telling 500 NRA members gathered at the Capital Hilton that they should simply “check my record,” the former New York City mayor frankly acknowledged: “You never get a candidate you agree with 100 percent.”

“There are a lot of things you and I have in common. There are probably a few things we disagree about, but there are many more things that we have in common,” said Mr. Giuliani, the Republican front-runner, who once labeled the NRA as a pack of “extremists.”

Explaining his past endorsement of gun control, he said with a chuckle: “I’m not even sure I agree with myself 100 percent.”

Yesterday, there were people all around him — in the audience and, one by one, at the podium — who did not agree with him. Sen. John McCain of Arizona struck first, telling group members they need to “dig into a politician’s record to find out where they really stand.”

“My friends, gun owners are not ‘extremists.’ You are the core of modern America,” he said.

Mr. McCain also criticized Mr. Giuliani’s 2000 lawsuit against gun manufacturers, saying “a number of big-city mayors decided it was more important to blame the manufacturers of a legal product than it was to control crime in their own cities.”

Mr. Thompson, by far the crowd’s favorite, followed with his own digs at the former mayor.

“It’s not just a matter of promises made, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a matter of commitments that have been kept,” he said. The former Tennessee senator and star of NBC’s “Law & Order” said he hasn’t changed his stance over time.

“I will say the same things I’ve been saying since 1994, and what I say, I will say in New Hampshire and I will say in Florida and all parts in between. … I’m not standing here before you as somebody who has been crazed about office ever since I was a junior in high school,” he said to loud applause.

Up-and-comer Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, ridiculed Mr. Giuliani’s contention that what worked in New York to lower the crime rate during his years as mayor might not work elsewhere. Mr. Huckabee said it was “absurd, laughable, that we would have geographic boundaries on the tenets of the Second Amendment.”

Although Mr. Giuliani was warmly received at the NRA conference, he had a lot of explaining to do to a group that doesn’t forget — and often doesn’t forgive — actions it considers transgressions.

During his years as mayor, Mr. Giuliani supported waiting periods for gun purchases. He furthered annoyed gun owners when he filed a lawsuit against major gun manufacturers, claiming that reducing the availability of guns would lower crime. Yesterday, he backpedaled on that, too, saying the ongoing lawsuit “has taken several turns and several twists I don’t agree with.”

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who also has a history of advocating gun control, stayed away from the conference altogether, sending a video message in which he plainly pledged: “I support the Second Amendment.”

In 1994, Mr. Romney supported the Brady gun-control law and said he wouldn’t be the hero of the NRA. Still, he became a lifetime member of the organization in 2006.

Although guns haven’t yet become a major issue in the Republican 2008 presidential campaign, each candidate knows the power of the 4-million-member NRA.

“John Kerry learned that 20 minutes in a goose pit doesn’t make up for 20 years of voting against gun owners,” said the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox. The Massachusetts Democrat made an 11th-hour move to win NRA votes by going on a goose hunt in October 2004, a month before he lost the election to President Bush.

While Mr. Giuliani was often contrite, he was not always conciliatory. Waving a small brochure that outlines his 12 commitments to America — none mentions the constitutional right to bear arms — he said: “If you agree with them, then I would ask you to support me. If you disagree with most of these, I would ask you to vote against me.”

He vowed to enforce gun laws on the books and to refuse plea bargains for criminals who commit crimes with guns, touting his record of cutting crime in New York City by 66 percent during his term.

“The bottom line is that we need to step up enforcement against gun crimes and leave law-abiding citizens alone,” he said to hearty applause. “The time spent focusing on law-abiding, legal gun owners is time taken away from arresting and prosecuting and disabling the criminals who use guns.”

In a surreal moment, Mr. Giuliani pulled a ringing cell phone from his pocket in midspeech and talked with his wife, Judith. “Hello, dear. I’m talking to the members of the NRA right now. Would you like to say hello?” he said.

A few seconds later, he said: “OK, goodbye, sweetheart, I love you.”

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