But as he works to quickly pivot from a primary spent wooing conservatives to a general-election battle for independent votes, Romney spent most of the speech talking more broadly about economic and religious freedoms, using constitutional language that would appeal to NRA supporters to address a wider range of issues.
“This president is moving us away from our Founders’ vision. Instead of limited government, he is leading us toward limited freedom and limited opportunity,” Romney said. “As president, the Constitution would be my guide, and the Declaration of Independence my compass.”
Romney’s address to the yearly gathering came just three days after former U.S. senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) suspended his campaign, likely sealing the Republican nomination for Romney.
According to Romney’s campaign, the NRA speech was the first of a series of general-election addresses that the former governor will make to attempt to crystallize the choice between him and Obama on issues of fundamental freedoms. Romney spoke about expanding the economy by reducing regulations and taxes, and he accused Obama of infringing on religious liberties.
He referred to “freedom” 29 times in the speech and used the word “gun” just once. But he offered a robust defense of gun rights.
“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,” he told thousands of NRA members, speaking on the floor of the domed stadium that is home to the St. Louis Rams. “We need a president who will stand up for the rights of hunters, and sportsmen, and those seeking to protect their homes and their families. President Obama has not; I will.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Friday that Obama is focused on “common-sense actions that protect the Second Amendment rights of Americans while ensuring that those who should not have guns under existing law do not get guns.”
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who remains in the GOP race, also addressed the convention, as did Santorum.
Some gun owners remain skeptical about Romney, who once promised while running for Massachusetts governor in 2002 not to “chip away” at the state’s restrictive gun laws. “I believe they help protect us and provide for our safety,” he said then.
In an op-ed in Politico on Friday, former Ohio governor Ted Strickland (D) accused Romney of having a gun record “more scattered than buckshot pellets.”
“Romney is hardly a consistent Second Amendment defender, or a lifelong sportsman, or a longtime gun owner. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that he pretends to be all these things — pandering shamelessly to voters just as he does on every issue under the sun,” wrote Strickland, who is a co-chair of the Obama campaign.