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Michael Conroy, Associated Press
Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks at the National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis, Friday, April 13, 2012.

ST. LOUIS — Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum says no group has done a better job of promoting American freedom than the National Rifle Association.

Santorum told the NRA convention Friday in St. Louis that the gun-rights group has been a vital beacon for individual liberties.

He praised GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney and said conservatives must back Republican candidates even if they find them imperfect.

Santorum said it is essential to defeat President Barack Obama in November. If re-elected, Santorum said Obama may be able to turn the Supreme Court in a more liberal direction should any of the longest-serving justices retire.