NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Leaders of the National Rifle Association on Saturday cited the new Republican majority in the U.S. Senate as evidence of the group's political clout, but warned of looming gun-control efforts in the final years of Barack Obama's presidency.
Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president and CEO, in his members' meeting speech called on Congress to enact a law allowing people with handgun carry permits to be allowed to be armed anywhere in the country, arguing that nobody "should be forced to face evil with bare hands."
The motto of the NRA's annual convention this weekend is: "If they can ban one, they can ban them all." Organizers expect more than 70,000 people to visit the convention's exhibit space, meetings and musical acts in downtown Nashville.
LaPierre and Chris Cox, the head of the NRA's lobbying arm, painted a bleak picture of the state of the country and the dangers to gun rights presented by the last 650 days of Obama's presidency.
"There's no telling how far President Obama will go to dismantle our freedoms and reshape America into an America that you and I will not even recognize," LaPierre said. "And when he's finished he intends to go out with a coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton."
Clinton is expected to announce the launch of her bid for the Democratic nomination for president on Sunday.
Cox said Clinton would make Obama "look like an amateur" when it comes to gun control.
"Think about it: Hillary Clinton as president of the United States until 2025," Cox said. "Scared yet?"
Meanwhile, a few hundred NRA protesters gathered in a park along the nearby Cumberland River. Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, criticized what she called LaPierre's "fear-mongering rhetoric."
The NRA's goal, Watts said, is: "Guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime — no questions asked."
Back at the NRA meeting, the group's president, Jim Porter, criticized politicians and the media on gun rights, a common refrain throughout speeches at the convention.
"They think that they're better and smarter than we are, as if they're more sophisticated and intellectually evolved than we are," Porter said.
"When it comes to those elitists, looking down their noses and telling us how to live, it's time they got the message loud and clear," he said. "You elitists live however your want, but when it comes to us, get your hands off our freedom and leave us the hell alone."
On Friday, the NRA hosted a series of speeches from potential Republican presidential candidates, including former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida; Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana; Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas; former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas; Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
The NRA's Cox told members on Saturday that the group has a multi-pronged approach to opposing gun-control advocates.
"We'll fight you in the courts, we'll fight you in the legislatures and we'll fight you on Election Day," he said.