ATLANTA (AFP) - Ninety-nine days into office President Donald Trump jetted into Atlanta, Georgia on Friday (April 28) to address the National Rifle Association, earning a triumphant welcome from the hugely powerful US gun lobby.
Republican candidates have often jostled to the doors of the organisation that prides itself on its ability to influence American elections. But for a sitting president to address the group’s members is far less common.
Lapping up cheers from the crowd at the NRA’s 146th annual convention, Trump said he was “proud” to be the first to do so since Ronald Reagan nearly 35 years ago.
“You have a true friend and champion in the White House,” he told members of the NRA, which backed his maverick election campaign in 2016, giving him significant financial support.
“I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” Trump vowed.
The NRA has given the President high marks for the opening 100 days of his presidency, especially for his appointment of a conservative judge, Neil Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court.
As more than 80,000 of its members gathered for the four-day event in Atlanta, the NRA made clear it remains a fan of the Republican president.
“After 8 LONG years, we once again have a @POTUS who respects & cherishes individual freedom,” it tweeted early on Friday.
In a short video previewing Trump’s speech, the NRA drew a parallel between his address and Reagan’s – evidence, if any were necessary, of the lobbying group’s close ties to the 45th president.
In 1983, Reagan electrified NRA members gathered in Phoenix, Arizona during his re-election campaign.
“We will never disarm any American who seeks to protect his or her family from fear and harm,” said the president, who has become an all-but sacred icon for many Republicans.
“The constitution says ‘The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,’” Reagan added to thunderous applause.
The former actor was careful to cite the constitution’s Second Amendment verbatim – but only part of it.
The full sentence stipulates that “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That formulation has prompted many different interpretations depending on views and politics.
Although no elected official today advocates confiscating Americans’ firearms, Democrats disagree with Republicans over the degree of regulation needed for weapons sales and permits.
GUN VIOLENCE 'EPIDEMIC'
Former president Barack Obama failed to overcome fierce Republican resistance when he tried to pass minor gun control legislation following the Sandy Hook School massacre that killed 26 people in 2012. Obama was angry at what he called an “epidemic” of US gun violence.
Trump had been welcomed with wild enthusiasm when, in May 2016 while campaigning for president, he spoke at the NRA’s national convention in Louisville, Kentucky.
Eager to galvanise his base after a string of setbacks in Congress and the courts, the President’s NRA address was also a way to spend the eve of the 100-day milestone in friendly company.
After his campaign-style address to the NRA, on Saturday Trump will travel to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to tout his achievements at a rally of supporters.
Pennsylvania is one of three swing states – including Michigan and Wisconsin – that proved crucial for Trump’s surprise victory in November, thanks in no small part to support from the millions of NRA members.