NRA convention in St. Louis billed as freedom celebration

Thursday, April 12, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The national NRA convention, which opened here Thursday, has been billed as a "celebration of American freedom" and the right to keep and bear arms.

"The Second Amendment is in the best shape it's been in decades, and that's good for America and the NRA," Wayne LaPierre, its chief executive told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Wednesday.

The 136-year-old National Rifle Association, based in Fairfax, Va., is one of the nation's most high-profile organizations, billing itself as a dogged defender of an individual's right to own firearms. It has the devotion of its 4 million members, and the derision of its opponents.

An estimated 60,000 members are expected to attend, which would make it St. Louis' largest convention ever, not counting Pope John Paul II's visit in 1999.

The NRA conference will run through Sunday with more than 400 exhibits from gun manufacturers and shooting clubs. Workshops will cover firearms laws, self-defense, hunting in Africa and "methods of concealed-carry."

Panelists for the "NRA and the Media" discussion Sunday include Oliver North, an NRA board member. The headline speaker Saturday is John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

LaPierre said things are going well for gun owners in the U.S., but not overseas.

"There is a transnational anti-gun movement that has set up shop at the U.N., some of it morphed from the old nuclear-freeze movement," he said. "The U.S. stands alone where free people can own firearms. The threat is real."

The NRA canceled plans to meet in Columbus, Ohio, after the City Council adopted a ban on assault-type weapons. The NRA says moving here puts it within a 300-mile radius of 500,000 members.

The Missouri Legislature is considering two high-priority NRA bills: to expand a person's justifications for using deadly force in self-defense, and to prohibit local governments from confiscating firearms during emergencies.

"In Jeff City, we're like salmon swimming upstream," said Jeanne Kirkton a Webster Groves city councilwoman and former leader of the local Million Mom March, a gun-control group. "Our Legislature is pretty much pro-gun. The NRA has tons of money. And it's effective."

Her dormant organization was named after a demonstration held in Washington in 2000 to lobby for stricter gun laws. That was one year after the Missouri referendum, Proposition B, on April 6, 1999.

Prop B, backed by almost $4 million in NRA money, would have allowed Missourians to apply for permits to carry concealed weapons. It lost by 44,000 votes.

Four years later, the Legislature overrode then-Gov. Bob Holden's veto of a concealed-carry law.

"We have a strong grass-roots network and we work very hard," said Kevin Jamison, a lawyer in the Kansas City suburb of Gladstone and the NRA's point man in Missouri. "I think our opponents have a naive belief that if they outlaw or tightly restrict guns, that criminals won't commit crimes."

LaPierre said the NRA is pushing the prohibition against emergency confiscations because New Orleans police, under orders from City Hall, did just that after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A spokesman said the NRA was "12 for 12" last year in getting states to adopt that law, with Missouri among seven considering it this year.

The other bill, known as the "Castle Doctrine," would expand the reasonable use of deadly force in self-defense beyond the traditional defense of one's home. Sixteen states have adopted similar laws at the NRA's urging. Missouri is one of eight considering it now.


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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

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