Notable absences? Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, both of whom have a prickly relationship with the NRA and were not invited to attend -- Paul because of his affiliation with another gun-rights group and Christie who scores low on the NRA's scorecard. Paul told Bloomberg that it was the group's loss, not his: "To not be invited, probably, will serve more to cast aspersions on their group than it would on me. Because my record's pretty clear. It probably looks a little bit petty for them not to invite a major candidate because I raised money for other Second Amendment groups."
For those candidates who made the cut, today was a critical campaign stop. The Post's David A. Fahrenthold reported on the role of gun rights in the GOP last month:
Even for those who don’t own [guns], they are a bellwether of individual liberty, a symbol of what big government wants and shouldn’t have. ... As the 2016 campaign gets going, guns and hunting will inevitably be part of its political theater. That may offer a chance for longtime gun-owning candidates to stand out. ... Already, on the campaign trail, several contenders have used their support for guns as a way to signal broader conservative bona fides. In a party full of internal arguments, this is one thing few will argue with.
Find the speech highlights below.
Biggest applause line: "You sometimes get the idea that president Obama and Hillary Clinton believe that these are just crazy right-wing ideas...But these are not the ideas of a right wing conspiracy. These are the pillars of our nation. And that’s why I was glad to write the law in Congress after Hurricane Katrina ensuring that never again can the government seize your firearms after a disaster."
Biggest flop: "I remember the days when Hollywood actually liked the First Amendment. Well maybe they haven’t read the First Amendment lately. They’re too busy dealing with record-low movie attendance."
Red meat: "As the governor of the great state of Louisiana, I’m proud to report we’ve got plenty of plenty of guns and religion both, but we’re not bitter about any of it. That’s right."
Biggest applause line: "Mr. President, last time I checked the Second Amendment is part of that Constitution."
Biggest flop: "As a kid, I loved to read about our Founders so it was a real treat to go over the Independence Hall for the first time. ... As I looked as the desks and the chairs, it dawned on me that these were ordinary people. Ordinary people who did something quite extraordinary."
Red meat: "You don't get to pick and choose which part of the Constitution you support. Preserving, protecting and defending it is not optional. It's mandatory."
Biggest applause line: "I’ll tell you what kind of wife I have ... She doesn’t want flowers, she wants ammo. And I never buy enough."
Most awkward comment: "That’s what reporters were telling me: ‘Nobody likes you!’"
Red meat: "Freedom is under assault, not by the gay and lesbian community, no. It’s under assault by the left in America ... Government is trying to determine and tell you how you’re supposed to run your life. What you’re supposed to believe now. They’re not looking for tolerance, they’re looking for conformity."
Biggest applause line: "We must also recognize that homeland security starts with border security. I told the president last summer, if you won’t secure the border, Texas will."
Greatest self promotion: "It might surprise a few of you, I’ve been thinking about 2016. I’ll put my record up against any candidate out there."
Red meat: "There are two types of thinking in American politics...delusional thinking of the left, epitomized by our president ... the rest of us subscribe to reality-based thinking."
Biggest applause line: "I have a message for the Obama administration: Why don’t you focus more on keeping weapons out of the hands of Islamic terrorists and less on keeping weapons out of the hands of law abiding Americans?"
Missed opportunity: "[That's] the liberal, progressive world-view of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder and all the other people who want to take the guns out of the hands of the good guys and the hands of the law abiding citizens," Bush said, stumbling a bit over his words.
Red meat: "You shouldn’t have to choose between being attacked and going to jail. The only thing you should be worried about is keeping yourself and your loved ones safe."
Worst metaphor: "The constitution isn't like a breakfast buffet. [Liberals] pick the amendments they like and they leave the amendments they don’t like alone. ... But here’s the thing, the bill of rights...is a packaged deal.
Biggest applause line: "I have a feeling there is a power greater than me and I say I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me."
Most awkward transition: "When I was a youngster I was always excited to see guns ...I saw a lot of guns. They weren’t necessarily carried by people who were law abiding citizens either, I remember seeing people lying on the ground with bullet holes waiting to die. I remember both of my older cousins who we lived with were killed and I remember the drug dealers, many of whom we liked because they brought us candy... There was a lot of carnage. But I can tell you something it’s not nearly as horrible as having a population that is defenseless against a group off tyrants who have arms."
Red meat: "We think about people from Honduras and Mexico and places like that coming in, but you know there are people watching us all over this world, they're called radical, extremists, Islamic, um, terrorists, and they are going to get in here any way they can and when they get here we need to be able to fight them, especially if we have an administration that won't fight them. We need to fight them ourselves."
Biggest applause line: "Let me be clear with you about something: When talking about radical Islam, we talk about an ideology that millions of peace-loving Muslims join us in condemning. ... Mr. President, if condemning that puts us on a high horse, I suggest we saddle up."
Most self-aware line: "Let me close, ‘cause I’m running out of water."
Runner-up: "And so in three days I will announce whether I will run for president, for reelection to the Senate, or for commissioner of the National Football League."
Red meat: "Weakness is the friend of danger and weakness is the enemy of peace. President Obama has been a weak president. The only thing President Obama has strengthened over the last six years has been his own unlawful power."
Best applause line: "The Bill of Rights in no way restricts my freedom as an American citizen, it wasn't written to tell me or you what we can't do. The Bill of Rights was written to tell the government what it can't do."
Self-promotion joke flop: "Earlier this year I released a book and the title of it really scared the media. The title was 'God, Gun, Grits and Gravy' and it’s not a book of southern recipes, though a lot of people thought it was, not that there’s anything wrong with that."
Red meat: I don't love guns, but I love freedom. I love America. And I love the freedom to live in this country and own which I choose to own whether for my protection or my pleasure or just to drive people on the left stark raving nuts."
Redder meat: "On three occasions I visited Auschwitz ... It's a gut punch, a fierce reminder of what happens when a government is unchecked in its power... What happens when a government decides that some people are dispensable, disposable even? That their lives are not worth as much as the lives of someone else. One of the reasons I'm an unapologetic and ardent pro-life advocate is because I believe a child with Down Syndrome is as valuable to our culture as the captain of the football team."
Biggest applause line: "You may not like the fact that I like these guns, you may disagree with the fact that I have these guns, but all I can say to you is I have a right to own these guns. I have a duty to be responsible with these guns – do you agree with that also?"
Didn’t quite land: "I want to thank the Democrats who support the Second Amendment. And there are a few. And folks to get to 60 votes sometimes in the Senate, you’re going to need a Democrat or two."
Best 2016 humor: "Next time you vote for president, make sure they’ve at least run a lemonade stand, they’re proud of their country...and they know somebody who owns a gun."
Red meat: "The next time you vote, make sure you vote for somebody who knows what the hell they’re doing when it comes to being Commander-in-Chief."
Biggest forced applause line: "I love the NRA, I love the Second Amendment. You have to know that, it's really something to have a room like this and having so many great Americans, great taxpayers, wonderful people and hard workers. Go ahead, you can go ahead. (Applause)
Best self-promotion: "If I run for president and I win, the Second Amendment will be totally protected that I will tell you. That said, our country is in serious, serious trouble. We have a president who in my opinion is incompetent, who doesn't know what he's doing. We have negotiators who have no clue...I wrote the 'Art of the Deal,' they should read it."
Red meat (Obama-bashing): "Just not a good person, and perhaps - go ahead you can hear it, you believe it - I don't know if he has the interests of the country, he probably does, but as I said, I think the whole group, led by the leader is grossly, grossly incompetent. And there's nothing you can do about it."
Biggest applause line: “Thanks to the passionate leadership of the men and women in this room, every single one of President Obama’s proposal to undermine the Second Amendment was voted down on the Senate floor. That is the power of the men and women here.”
Didn’t quite land: “The only thing I regret is that like John Hancock that I didn’t make my signature bigger. So that the Ayatollah could see it without his reading glasses.”
Red meat: “Well I’ll tell you, if Hillary Clinton is going to join with Barack Obama and the gun grabbers and come after our guns, then what I say is come and take it!”