Donald Trump tells NRA: 'The 8-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end'

Associated Press
President Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association Leadership Conference - AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Donald Trump has vowed to end the "eight year assault" on Americans' rights to bear arms, in the first speech delivered by a president to the National Rifle Association in more than three decades.

Mr Trump became the first president to address members of the country's most powerful gun lobby  since Ronald Reagan in 1983, hoping to renew his standing among a conservative base wary after watching the President reverse course on a series of campaign promises.

"The eight-year assault on your Second-amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end," Mr Trump said, referring to the presidency of Barack Obama, his predecessor. 

"I will never ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms."

"You have a true friend and champion in the White House," he said. "No longer will federal agencies come after law abiding gun owners.

"No longer will the government be trying to undermine your rights and freedoms as Americans. We want to assure you of the sacred right of defence for all our citizens."

For Mr Trump, the speech was a chance to return to the campaign-style rallies that he seemed to so enjoy during the election.

Marking his first 100-days in office on Saturday, Mr Trump is under pressure to demonstrate his commitment to the principles he laid out as a Republican candidate.

His presidency has been rocked with about faces in policy on everything from China, trade and NATO, causing some conservative to worry that he is relinquishing his nativist approach.

Mr Trump revived his campaign rhetoric, issuing harsh words for undocumented immigrants and promising, once again, to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

Mr Trump failed this week to push through the funding he would need to build the wall through Congress, but he insisted on Friday that "we are going to get that wall".

"You need the wall to strop the human trafficking, to stop the drugs, to stop the people," he told the crowd.  "We need the wall. We are going to get that wall. "

He also spoke about wanting to stop "drug dealers" who he has previously described as "pouring" over the border from Mexico, from "peddling poison all over our streets".

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For the excited NRA faithful, one aspect of seeing President Donald Trump open their annual meeting was a bit of a downer: No guns allowed.

Guns are allowed in most public places in Georgia, including the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta where the National Rifle Association is holding its annual meeting through the weekend. But as with most presidential appearances, firearms were banned.

The rule left some attendees Friday feeling a little out of sorts without a sidearm or any kind of weapon they might ordinarily carry, including pepper spray and knives. But many figured they were safe given the event hall was swept hours earlier by the Secret Service, and there were K-9 dogs and metal detectors to get past before getting inside.

"If the president wasn't here, we'd be carrying. We're in the safest place right now," said Mark D. Swinson, an NRA-certified instructor who with his wife owns a company that provides firearms training.

Still, he confessed, "I did feel a little naked getting here" from the hotel, a few blocks away from the conventional hall.

The NRA gathering is taking place in a sprawling convention center a block from CNN and a short distance from Centennial Olympic Park, where a bomb exploded during the 1996 Summer Olympics. The CNN center, which has a food court open to the public on the first floor, had its own history of violence when a gunman in 2007 shot and killed his ex-girlfriend who worked in an adjoining hotel.

It's par for the course that firearms are not allowed in venues where the president is present. The same holds true for presidential candidates: When Trump addressed the NRA annual meetings last year, firearms weren't allowed either.

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The NRA provided lockers for free so people could stow their firearms while inside the room where Trump was speaking Friday afternoon. There weren't restrictions in other parts of the convention center, and after the president's departure attendees can again arm themselves.

Christopher Barnett, who lives outside of Palm Beach, Florida, said he didn't mind leaving his weapon behind as a standard security precaution for the president.

And Bill Scott, a member of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said he would only be worried if there was no security sweep and not the scores of Secret Service agents providing security.

"If there wasn't any of that at this event and they told me no guns, I'd say no way," Scott said.

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