By Michael D. Shear and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Rudolph W. Giuliani will go before the rank and file of the National Rifle Association on Friday, seeking support for his Republican presidential campaign from a group he once likened to "extremists" for its efforts to repeal the ban on assault weapons.
But even as the former New York mayor strives to burnish his Second Amendment credentials at the gathering in Washington, a panel of federal judges in his home town will be hearing arguments on the lawsuit that Giuliani filed seven years ago aimed at punishing the nation's gun manufacturers for violent crimes involving firearms.
Announcing the lawsuit in 2000, then-Mayor Giuliani wrote in his weekly column about issues facing the city that "this is an industry which profits from the suffering of innocent people. The lawsuit is intended to end the free pass that the gun industry has enjoyed for a very long time, which has resulted in too many avoidable deaths."
He called the lawsuit "an aggressive step towards restoring accountability to an industry that profits from the suffering of others." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit will decide whether the lawsuit -- against Colt, Glock, Smith & Wesson and others -- can move forward despite federal legislation that attempted to grant immunity to the companies.
A spokeswoman for Giuliani's presidential campaign yesterday declined to say whether he still supports the lawsuit or the goals he laid out in 2000.
"Mayor Giuliani successfully worked to get illegal guns out of the hands of criminals in order to transform a city out of control," said spokeswoman Maria Comella. "By being tough on gun crimes and enforcing the laws on the books, New York City's murder rate was cut by 66 percent. The bottom line: The best way to deal with gun-related crime is to prosecute the criminals and enforce the laws already on the books."
Like his support for abortion rights, the mayor's earlier words on guns are likely to haunt his presidential campaign as he tries to court Republican primary voters. A recent Washington Post poll found that 57 percent of Republicans oppose stricter gun control laws.
In a 1995 interview with PBS's Charlie Rose, Giuliani said the NRA goes "overboard. The extremists on the left and the extremists on the right have essentially the same tactic," he said, adding later that "the NRA's, in essence, defense of assault weapons, and their unwillingness to deal with some of the realities here that we face in our cities is a terrible, terrible mistake."
Giuliani's support for the assault weapon ban won him the admiration of then-President Bill Clinton, who sent him an autographed picture of the pair sitting in the White House.
"To Mayor Giuliani," Clinton scrawled, "with thanks for your help on the assault weapons legislation. Bill Clinton."
Giuliani has worked to gradually soften his stance on guns. His Web site states that "Rudy understands that what works in New York doesn't necessarily work in Mississippi or Montana."
In recent months, Giuliani has sought to focus the discussion of guns by declaring himself dedicated to upholding the right of individuals to own weapons. In a speech at the end of April, Giuliani said that "whatever my personal views, the Constitution of the United States decides this . . . you have a personal right to carry arms, to have arms. That personal right is as strong as the right to free speech."
But it remains unclear whether those words will be enough to win over gun rights advocates. The NRA invited Giuliani and other presidential candidates, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former senator Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), to be speakers at their "Celebration of American Values" conference in Washington on Friday. But a spokesman said no decision had been made about whom they will support or oppose.
"We will judge candidates on their past, on what they're saying today and also on what they say they will do if they're elected," said Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman.