Giuliani tries to bury NRA hatchet

Times Staff Writer

washington -- Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani renounced anti-gun positions he took when he was a moderate mayor of New York, and asked the National Rifle Assn. on Friday to support his presidential candidacy.

Giuliani’s overture to gun owners is considered a crucial step in his quest to reassure social conservatives, an important Republican constituency, that he shares enough of their values to warrant the party nomination.

But even as he pledged to uphold the right to bear arms, Giuliani’s past positions prompted attacks from Republican rivals at the NRA’s Celebration of American Values conference in Washington. One of them, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, took Giuliani to task -- although not by name -- for once suggesting leaders of the group were extremists.

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


One of Giuliani’s toughest political challenges is to reconcile his anti-gun stands in New York with the pro-gun views of Republican voters in Iowa, South Carolina and other states with early contests in the nomination race. Facing a similar conundrum for supporting abortion rights, Giuliani has said that his personal view is that the procedure is morally wrong.

In Giuliani’s clearest break from his mayoral record, he renounced the lawsuit that he ordered the city to file against gun makers in 2000. It was one of dozens of suits that state and local governments filed seeking millions in damages from gun manufacturers for what the plaintiffs said was reckless marketing.

“I think that lawsuit has gone in a direction that I probably don’t agree with at this point,” Giuliani told several hundred gun-rights supporters at the conference.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, cast a new light on 2nd Amendment rights, he said, and “maybe it highlights the necessity for them more.”

Giuliani described the suit as part of his aggressive approach to crime.

“Some people call it excessive,” Giuliani said. “I thought it was intense. But the reality is I was trying to achieve a result, which is to reduce crime in New York. That is not necessarily what is needed now. It certainly isn’t the interpretation that I think is the correct interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.”

As mayor from 1994 to 2001, Giuliani supported a federal ban on assault weapons. Congress passed such a ban, but it has since expired. Giuliani does not support any new federal legislation restricting gun ownership, he said Friday.

Giuliani’s willingness to verbally take on the NRA during his years as mayor added to the anticipation surrounding his speech to the group. In 1995, he told television interviewer Charlie Rose: “The NRA, for some reason, I think, goes way overboard. It’s almost -- it’s what the extremists on the other side do. I think the extremists of the left and the extremists of the right have essentially the same tactic, the slippery-slope theory: ‘If you give one point, then your entire argument is going to fall apart.’ And we kind of get destroyed by that.”

On Friday, Giuliani told the NRA conference: “I would love to have your support in the future. Mostly, I’d like us to respect each other, because I think we have very, very legitimate and similar views, even though there may be some differences here and there.”

He also praised a March federal court ruling that struck down a municipal handgun ban in Washington.

The crowd interrupted Giuliani with frequent applause. Most of the audience gave him a standing ovation as he walked off stage.

“He’s OK,” said Gene Oyler, 80, a hunter from Arizona. “He’ll do to cross the river with. I think he’s changed some of his thinking, and that’s OK.”

“I like what he said,” said Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president.

The group has not decided whether to endorse a candidate for president.

McCain, a longtime opponent of gun control, took several jabs at Giuliani during his speech. He chastised legal efforts by mayors who tried to “cripple our firearms manufacturers by making them liable for the acts of violent criminals.”

“This was a particularly devious effort to use lawsuits to bankrupt our great gun manufacturers,” he said.

Another Republican White House contender, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, told the group he had recently visited a gun store in New Hampshire and a gun show in Florida.

“My philosophy does not depend on my geography,” Thompson said.

He recalled the “A” ratings that he won as a senator from the NRA in the 1990s. “It’s not just a matter of promises made, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “It’s a matter of commitments that have been kept.”

Giuliani is not the only Republican candidate to face political problems for backing gun control measures. Mitt Romney signed an assault-weapons ban into law as governor of Massachusetts in 2004.

But in a videotaped message to the conference, he said he had worked closely with the NRA to expand gun rights in his state.

“And my door was always open to you, and that will continue to be the case if I’m elected president,” he said.

Another Republican candidate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, told the conference that he had long hunted duck, turkey and venison. Once, he said, he was on a three-man team that won an antelope-hunting contest.

Needling Romney, who became an NRA member last year, Huckabee said: “I didn’t just join last year. I’ve been part of the organization for a while.”