At their convention here Saturday, National Rifle Assn. leaders took credit for President Bush's election, saying they're taking aim next at unseating gun control advocates in Congress and defeating campaign finance reform in court.
"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."
Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, 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 Gore's home state of Tennessee.
"I recall the surprise of national Democratic leaders at losing those states in the presidential election," Miller, a longtime NRA member, said in remarks prepared for Saturday night's banquet.
"All their expert pollsters said voters favored gun control. . . . Well, I stand with heartfelt conviction over a political wind gauge any day."
NRA President Charlton Heston narrated an eight-minute videotape about 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 as their leader.
"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, to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits and to defend 1st 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 shots 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?"