Trump rallies NRA 'friends' on eve of 100-day milestone

Jim WATSON, with Jerome CARTILLIER in Washington
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US President Donald Trump arrives to address the National Rifle Association (NRA) Leadership Forum in Atlanta, Georgia on April 28, 2017

Ninety-nine days into office President Donald Trump rallied his "friends" from the National Rifle Association on Friday, telling the hugely powerful US gun lobby the "assault" on their right to bear arms is over.

"You have a true friend and champion in the White House," he told a cheering crowd in Atlanta, Georgia at the annual convention of the NRA, which pumped cash into his maverick election campaign in 2016.

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

Using the speech to vaunt his record after a string of domestic policy setbacks, Trump highlighted his appointment of a conservative judge, Neil Gorsuch, to the Supreme Court.

And he raised again the issue of illegal immigration, repeating his pledge that "we're going to build a wall" on the border with Mexico.

"The world is getting the message" that America will deport or arrest people illegally crossing its borders, he said, declaring immigration control crucial to keeping "radical Islamic terrorists" out of the country.

The Republican president, repeating his "Make America Great Again" slogan to cheers of "USA! USA!," cast gun ownership as a constitutionally protected freedom that needed no additional restrictions.

"Freedom is not a gift from the government. Freedom is a gift from God," he said.

He added: "The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end."

That referenced a failed attempt by his Democrat predecessor Barack Obama to pass minor gun control legislation following the Sandy Hook School massacre that killed 26 people in 2012.

The effort to rein in what an angry Obama called an "epidemic" of US gun violence foundered on Republican resistance.

- Guns 'save lives' -

Trump declared that armed Americans prevented overreach by the federal government, and were a boon for law enforcement.

"The right of self-defense is essential to public safety," he said, asserting that police believed that "gun ownership saves lives" and "these are dangerous times."

The NRA -- which claims five million members including many white, rural voters -- was one of the most steadfast supporters of Trump's against-the-odds presidential bid.

The gun lobby has given the president high marks for the opening 100 days of his presidency, and the 80,000 of its members gathered for the four-day event in Atlanta made clear they remain his biggest fans.

In a short video previewing the speech, the NRA drew a parallel between Trump and former Republican leader Ronald Reagan -- the last sitting president to address the lobby's members, nearly 35 years ago.

Reagan famously told the group in 1983: "The constitution says 'The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.'"

The former actor was careful to cite the constitution?s Second Amendment verbatim -- but only part of it.

The full sentence stipulates that "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

- Debate on gun control -

That formulation has prompted many different interpretations depending on views and politics.

Although no elected official today advocates confiscating Americans' firearms, Democrats disagree with Republicans over the degree of regulation needed for weapons sales and permits.

After his campaign-style address to the NRA, on Saturday Trump will travel to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to tout his achievements at a rally of supporters.

Pennsylvania is one of three swing states -- including Michigan and Wisconsin -- that proved crucial for Trump's surprise victory in November, thanks in no small part to support from the NRA's millions of members.