Right-to-bear Rudy?

WASHINGTON — Republican Rudy Giuliani sought to reassure
the National Rifle Association of his support for a constitutional
right to bear arms as rivals Fred Thompson, John McCain and Mike
Huckabee contended the former New York mayor is no friend of gun

In a direct appeal Friday to the powerful lobbying group,
Thompson, McCain and Huckabee stressed their backing for gun rights
and record of siding with the NRA.

Giuliani, who once referred to the NRA as "extremists,'' tried to explain his shifting views on
the issue.

The NRA's support is prized as the group blankets its 4 million
members with ads, mailings and phone calls. Before the 2008
election, it hopes to increase its numbers.

"I'd like us to respect each other; I think we have very, very
legitimate and mostly similar views,'' Giuliani told NRA members,
who clapped politely a dozen times during his 20-minute speech.

Giuliani also tried to explain why, as mayor, he joined a
lawsuit by several cities against the gun industry, arguing that
manufacturers and distributors made it too easy for criminals to
get guns.

On Friday, he said the ongoing lawsuit "has taken several turns
and several twists I don't agree with.''

Giuliani, an outspoken proponent of gun control during his eight
years as mayor, said Friday he agrees with a recent federal court
ruling that overturned a 30-year-old ban on private ownership of
handguns in Washington, D.C. He added that he would appoint judges
who take a similarly strict view of the Constitution and the Second

Despite Giuliani's changing views, NRA chief Wayne LaPierre
said: "All I know is, I liked what I heard today. It's a good
thing, if a politician sees the light and supports the Second

Thompson, McCain and Huckabee chose to highlight their record on
gun rights in a veiled criticism of Giuliani and former
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In 1994, Romney supported the Brady
gun control law and said he wouldn't be the hero of the NRA.
Romney became a lifetime member of the NRA in 2006. He addressed
the group by video Friday.

"Let me speak very directly and candidly about where I stand: I
support the Second Amendment as one of the most basic and
fundamental rights of every American. It's essential to our
functioning as a free society, as are all the liberties enumerated
in the Bill of Rights,'' he said.

Thompson, who makes a point of visiting gun shops and gun shows
in early voting states, received a warmer reception from the
audience of about 500 people, some of whom stood and cheered when
he said: "Our basic rights come from God, not from government.''

Thompson recently indicated that he wouldn't talk about his
faith on the campaign trail.

"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,''
Thompson said.

McCain criticized Giuliani outright, citing the use of the word
"extremists'' in reference to the NRA.

"My friends, gun owners are not extremists; you are the core of
modern America,'' the Arizona senator said. "The Second Amendment
is unique in the world and at the core of our constitutional
freedoms. It guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms.
To argue anything else is to reject the clear meaning of our
founding fathers.

Anti-war protesters from the group Code Pink interrupted his
speech and were escorted from the hotel ballroom.

Later, in Indianapolis, McCain was asked about Giuliani's
remarks in support of gun rights.

"I know that he had a very different position when he was mayor
of New York City. I have had the same position as a member of the
House and the Senate for many years,'' McCain said.

The candidates spoke to the NRA as gun violence occurred on
another college campus. Two students were shot and wounded, one
seriously, at Delaware State University, and the campus was locked
down as police searched for a gunman.

Such tragedies inevitably prompt politicians to argue over
whether more or fewer gun restrictions would prevent gun crimes.
Giuliani said he believes the best way to prevent such crimes is to
enforce existing gun laws, not create new ones.

The former mayor said his views on gun rights were tempered by
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: "Sept. 11 casts somewhat of
a different light on Second Amendment rights; it maybe highlights
the necessity for them more,'' Giuliani said.

Giuliani sought to make the case for his candidacy by
highlighting his front-runner status in national polls.

"You never get a candidate you agree with 100 percent — I'm not
sure I even agree with myself 100 percent,'' Giuliani said. "You
have to figure out who's electable, who can win. Because if we make
a mistake about that, this country is going to go in a direction
that I think you and I very much disagree with.''

Giuliani has said recently that what has worked in New York
might not work elsewhere, a notion that Huckabee scoffed at.

The former Arkansas governor said it was "absurd, laughable,
that we would have geographic boundaries on the tenets of the
Second Amendment.''

Giuliani's cell phone rang in the middle of his speech; he said
it was his wife, Judith, and as the audience laughed, he answered
it and had a brief conversation.