May 17, 2009
PHOENIX – Thousands of U.S. gun owners gathering in Phoenix for the National Rifle Association's convention have one target firmly in their sights: any attempt to curb gun rights by the new guys in Washington.
"We as an association, but more importantly America's 80 million gun owners, are very concerned about what may be coming down the pike through the Obama administration," Glen Caroline, grassroots director for the NRA's lobbying arm.
The NRA is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, with a long record of campaigning hard for gun rights sheltered by the U.S. Constitution. It has nearly 4 million members, 60,000 of whom were expected to attend the three-day event that began on Friday.
NRA activists and rank-and-file members say they are worried that President Barack Obama will fulfill promises to seek a permanent ban on assault weapons -- military style semi-automatic rifles -- and take other steps to tighten ownership of certain weapons.
"The question right now is not if there's a gathering storm, but when in fact that legislation is pushed more aggressively," Caroline said as activists, some in NRA caps and stars-and-stripes shirts, gathered for a buffet breakfast and workshop in a Phoenix hotel.
The NRA says Democratic control of both houses of the U.S. Congress make curbs more likely. It is organizing members to campaign for gun-friendly candidates -- usually Republicans -- in the mid-term congressional elections next year.
Many gun owners see curbs looming and are stocking up.
In the first four months of this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation ran just over 5 million instant background checks on individuals applying to buy firearms from licensed dealers or at gun shows, its data shows.
This was an increase of more than 25 percent from the 3.9 million checks made over the same period last year.
Activism is also buoyant, with hundreds of members taking part in a grassroots workshop and breakfast in Phoenix. The NRA also launched a phone campaign firing up activists to object to legislation they say infringes on the right to bear arms.
"Right now is a pivotal time in our history with a president and a total administration that is anti-gun," said Leonard Junker, 56, a truck driver and Republican Party organizer from Tucson attending the workshop.
"I truly believe that they want to disarm us," he added.
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