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Giuliani's Speech at NRA Doesn't Reassure Skeptics

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By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rudolph W. Giuliani yesterday 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.

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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 yesterday.

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 was focused only 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.

"You have to figure out who is electable and who can win, because if we make a mistake about that, the discussion will go very much in a direction that you and I disagree with," he said. "I would love to have your support, but mostly, I'd like us to respect each other, because I think we have very, very legitimate and similar views."

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 yesterday by implying that the fervor of his past advocacy for gun control has dulled in recent years.

At one point, he 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."

Yesterday, Giuliani backed away from the lawsuit, saying he might not uphold it if he were a judge.

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