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Giuliani's Speech at NRA Doesn't Reassure Skeptics

"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.

"I've still got something in the back of my mind that's hesitant about where he stands," said Michael Neubauer, from Northern California. "He's not solid enough."

As mayor, Giuliani was an outspoken supporter of a national ban on assault weapons, saying in a 1995 interview that the NRA's "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." He also decried porous gun laws in other states that led to a flood of illegal firearms in New York.

"A leopard doesn't change his spots," said Frank Pottle, a machinery repairman from Georgia. "If he's for gun control, whether you do it at the local or national level, it's all the same because you're abrogating my rights."

Meeting with a more enthusiastic response was former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.), who basked in warm applause despite his past support for campaign finance reform, which the NRA opposes. Thompson played up his edge over Giuliani without saying his rival's name, noting that he, Thompson, had visited a gun store and a gun show in recent weeks and that his gun-control beliefs "did not depend on geography."

"I never subscribed to the notion that it made our country safer to infringe on the rights of law-abiding American citizens," he said. "It's not just a matter of promises made. As far as I'm concerned, it's a matter of commitments that have been kept."

Asked whether stricter gun laws are justified in high-crime areas, Thompson shot back: "Nope. It's more than a coincidence that so many of the places with high crime rates have some of the toughest gun restrictions."

Earlier, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) -- who has taken heat from the NRA for his support of campaign finance reform -- rallied the crowd with his own veiled attack on Giuliani, criticizing the 2000 lawsuit as a "devious" attempt to bankrupt gunmakers.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee also addressed the convention; former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney spoke via video, as did Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only Democratic candidate to address the group.

Giuliani got a nervous laugh from the crowd after an odd interlude halfway through his speech: His cellphone rang, he answered, and he announced that it was his wife, Judith. "I'm talking to members of the NRA," he said into the phone. "I love you."

Giuliani praised the recent decision striking down the District of Columbia's stringent anti-gun laws, citing it as an example of his approach: No matter one's beliefs about guns, the Second Amendment must be respected.

"One thing you can be sure about with me is I will tell you what I really believe. It's not going to change unless something dramatic happens to make it change, and then I'll explain to you why," he said.

This failed to reassure Ron Boetto, from Illinois.

"He sounded like he said he'd back us but only under certain circumstances," Boetto said. "He didn't say, 'I support the Second Amendment, and nothing is going to change my mind from that.' He didn't say that."

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