POSTED: Saturday, May 4, 2013 - 8:00pm
UPDATED: Saturday, May 4, 2013 - 8:04pm
CNN — Wayne LaPierre, the nation's most visible gun-rights advocate, rallied supporters on Saturday for a renewed fight against gun control, saying membership is up since the Newtown massacre, and calling the effort to stop new limits a "long war" and a "fight for everything we care about."
The National Rifle Association's executive vice president vowed in remarks at the group's national convention that "we will never surrender our guns." He implored members to step up their outreach to members of Congress as part of a fight against "elites" and others who "use tragedy to try to blame us, to shame us" into compromise and who "want to change America, our culture and our values."
LaPierre delivered a speech heavy on militaristic and sweeping patriotic rhetoric. It was a signature moment at the weekend event, which sought to embrace a culture war theme in its so-far successful fight in Washington against recent gun-control initiatives. LaPierre singled out President Barack Obama, who has pushed for new firearms restrictions following the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 20 children and six adults dead.
The killings jolted the nation and energized gun-control advocates, while putting pressure on LaPierre's group and testing its political muscle anew. Polls have shown most Americans favoring some kind of new restrictions.
LaPierre said NRA membership has spiked, reaching a record 5 million, and he implored members to counter efforts by leading gun-control advocates, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Obama, and Democrats in Congress.
"We are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation fight for everything we care about. We have a chance to secure our freedom for a generation, or to lose it forever," LaPierre said.
"We must remain vigilant, ever resolute, and steadfastly growing and preparing for the even more critical battles that loom before us," he said.
LaPierre disparaged what he called Obama's "all-out siege against our rights" and efforts in Congress to enact new gun control measures, calling it "political posturing."
"Mr. President, you can give all the speeches you want. You can conjure up all the polls you can and call NRA members all the nasty names you can think of, but your gun control legislation won't stop one criminal, wouldn't make anyone safer anywhere," LaPierre said.
"And that flawed failure lost on its merits and got the defeat it deserved," he said, referring to the setback sustained by gun control advocates last month when a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks failed in the Senate.
The outcome was considered a victory for gun rights advocates, who lobbied hard to block its passage. Obama has vowed to keep pursuing new restrictions, and a co-author of the ill-fated legislative amendment is working to revive it.
LaPierre and the NRA propose, instead, that current laws be enforced, that schools include armed guards, that the government rebuild a "broken mental health system," and "for God's sake, leave the rest of us alone!"
LaPierre said the failed compromise background check proposal by Sens. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, were ineffective.
"The Manchin-Toomey bill you later backed wouldn't have prevented Newtown, wouldn't have prevented Tucson or Aurora," he said of other deadly mass shootings in Arizona in 2011 and Colorado last July, "and won't prevent the next tragedy,"
"None of it, any of it have anything to do with keeping our children safe at school anywhere," he said.
LaPierre also struck out specifically at Bloomberg, who has poured funds into the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, for acting as a "national nanny" and criticized the media for, as he said, failing to hold Obama accountable.
Incoming NRA President Jim Porter is setting his sights on congressional midterm elections in 2014 as crucial in the gun rights debate, urging members to support House and Senate members who have voted against recent efforts to instate a background check system.