ST. LOUIS — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will tell National Rifle Association members that President Barack Obama is not protecting gun owners' rights, even though the administration has said little about firearms and has deeply disappointed gun-control advocates.
In remarks prepared for the association's annual convention Friday, Romney says "we need a president who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners. President Obama has not; I will."
The excerpted remarks, released by Romney's campaign, offer no details about Obama's record on firearms.
Romney's speech comes as the former Massachusetts governor is trying to woo conservative groups in a bid to consolidate his base before the fall campaign. His relationship with gun owner groups is an uneasy one. Running for the Senate in 1994, Romney said: "I don't line up with the NRA." He later became a lifetime NRA member.
Obama has placed little emphasis on gun issues, to the dismay of groups such as the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In its most recent assessment, in 2010, the group flunked on Obama on all seven issues it deemed important and expressed disbelief at his performance.
Campaigning in 2008, Obama said: "I believe in the Second Amendment. I believe in people's lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won't take your handgun away. ... There are some common-sense gun safety laws that I believe in. But I am not going to take your guns away."
In his prepared remarks, Romney hints that Obama wants to erode gun rights, without saying so explicitly and without offering details.
"This administration's attack on freedom extends even to rights explicitly guaranteed by our Constitution," Romney says. "The right to bear arms is so plainly stated, so unambiguous, that liberals have a hard time challenging it directly. Instead, they've been employing every imaginable ploy to restrict it."
Asked for details, Romney's campaign said Obama has appointed judges, including Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, who have supported moves such as placing temporary limits on importing semiautomatic assault weapons. The campaign said Attorney General Eric Holder has not adequately backed people's rights to own and use firearms.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the president's record is clear on his support for the Second Amendment.
"We'll fight back against any attempts to mislead voters," he said.
The NRA gathering in St. Louis comes at a moment of heightened national concern about gun use because of the explosive Florida case in which a volunteer neighborhood watchman fatally shot an unarmed teenager. The NRA strongly backed Florida's "stand your ground" law, which is at the heart of the unfolding legal matter.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the former governor "believes that efforts to craft 'stand your ground' legislation should be left up to the individual states."
The NRA speech won't be the first time Romney has had to walk a careful line between appealing to conservatives, who form his party's base, and trying not to alarm independents, who will be crucial in the fall campaign.
The NRA is so vital to Republican politicians that Rick Santorum, who suspended his presidential candidacy on Tuesday, is keeping his appointment to speak just after Romney. Others scheduled to speak at the "leadership forum" are GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
When Romney ran successfully for Massachusetts governor in 2002, the NRA gave his Democratic opponent a higher rating on gun-rights issues but made no endorsement.
Massachusetts quadrupled its gun-licensing fee while Romney was governor. He signed a law that made permanent a ban on assault-type weapons, although it was coupled with measures backed by gun-rights groups, such as the creation of an appeals board for people seeking to restore their gun licenses.
As he was considering his first presidential run in 2006, Romney signed up for a lifetime NRA membership. He calls himself a strong supporter of gun ownership rights.
Romney drew snickers in 2008 by claiming he sometimes hunts "small varmints." He showed more humility and humor last month in Alabama, where he said he hoped to go hunting with a friend who "can actually show me which end of the rifle to point."
In his prepared remarks, Romney says: "We need a president who will stand up for the rights of hunters, sportsmen, and those seeking to protect their homes and their families. President Obama has not; I will."
Dan Gross, president of the Brady gun-control group, said he is happy that Obama spoke in support of the family of Florida shooting victim Trayvon Martin and called for more national dialogue on gun violence following last year's shooting of then-Rep. Gabriel Giffords, D-Ariz., which killed six people. "Our disappointment is that his voice is really yet to be heard in that conversation," Gross said.
He said Romney is pandering to a group that has abetted the killings of thousands of people.
Although the Florida case might stir new debate, gun issues have sharply faded in recent presidential elections. Obama rarely broaches the topic. GOP candidate forums often elicit no questions on the subject.
The NRA speech is Romney's only scheduled public appearance until Monday. The focus on gun rights will mark a sharp turn from the heavy emphasis on female voters and women's issues in the past several days.
Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report.
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