WASHINGTON – Rudy Giuliani on Friday sought to persuade members of the National Rifle Association to look past his lengthy record of pushing for tougher gun control by saying that his views on this issue had been changed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The attacks on New York and the Pentagon put “a whole different emphasis on the things America needs to do to protect itself, and maybe even a renewed emphasis on the Second Amendment,” Giuliani told the roughly 500 NRA members gathered at a Washington hotel.
Giuliani shared the forum with several rivals for the Republican presidential nomination who have long been outspoken in their support for gun owners’ rights. But attention focused on the former New York City mayor, who has emerged as the GOP front-runner despite being out of step with party orthodoxy on issues such as guns, abortion and gay rights.
His tenuous hold on a lead in national polling has been built largely on a get-tough approach to terrorism, but he was met with a skeptical response by the crowd at the annual NRA conference Friday.
While never expressly repudiating his stance on gun control, he sought repeatedly to assure the audience that he would not seek to place new limits on gun ownership, saying that “law enforcement should focus on enforcing the laws that exist on the books as opposed to passing new extensions of laws.”
Giuliani acknowledged that his record put him at odds with the NRA – whose members he once likened to extremists – but pledged that he would uphold the Second Amendment, which he said clearly supports the right to bear arms. He said his clampdown on guns in New York was needed to reduce crime and focused on criminals, and he added that he would carry the same philosophy into the White House.
He urged NRA members to recognize their points in common with him and support him as a candidate who could beat the Democrats next fall.
Giuliani has made similar “agree to disagree” overtures in this campaign on other issues where he runs counter to the Republican mainstream, but he went a step further Friday by implying that the fervor of his past advocacy for gun control has dulled.
He also came close to disavowing a lawsuit against gunmakers that he initiated while mayor of New York.
The 2000 lawsuit sought to hold gunmakers liable for shootings with illegal guns (the case, by chance, was heard this week in a federal appeals court). At the time, Giuliani called it an “aggressive step towards restoring accountability to an industry that profits from the suffering of others.”
Friday, Giuliani backed away from the lawsuit, saying he might not uphold it if he were a judge.
“That lawsuit has taken several turns and several twists that I don’t agree with,” he said, without going into specifics. “I also think that there are some major intervening events – September 11, which cast somewhat of a different light on the Second Amendment, doesn’t change it fundamentally but perhaps highlights the necessity of it.”
The pitch met with a tepid response. Several audience members said later that Giuliani had done little to allay their worries.
“A leopard doesn’t change his spots,” said Frank Pottle, a machinery repairman from Georgia.