Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney targeted President Barack Obama for attacking economic, religious and individual freedoms as he wooed gun owners Friday.
"This administration's attack on freedom extends even to rights explicitly guaranteed by our Constitution," Romney told the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association, the country's powerful gun lobby.
"The right to bear arms is so plainly stated, so unambiguous, that liberals have a hard time, challenging it directly," Romney said. "Instead, they've been employing every imaginable ploy to restrict it."
Romney vowed to "stand up for the rights of hunters, sportsmen, and those seeking to protect their homes and their families" and "defend the rights President Obama ignores or minimizes."
The NRA -- which calls itself the nation's oldest civil rights group -- is an influential and highly symbolic lobby group, able to rally millions of dedicated supporters. Romney was not alone in seeking its approval.
The presumptive Republican nominee was joined by rival Newt Gingrich and a virtual who's who of the Republican establishment.
Rick Santorum, who this week suspended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, also rallied the crowd in a sign that he has deferred rather than abandoned his political ambitions.
The NRA did not endorse Romney, who has been criticized for enacting gun control legislation while governor of Massachusetts, but urged members to fight hard to defeat Obama in November.
"If President Obama gets a second term, America as we know it will be on its way to being lost forever," said NRA chief Wayne LaPierre.
"This election -- it's a fight for our country. It's a fight for our values. It's a fight for our freedom."
The NRA also maintained its silence over the controversial shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida by a neighborhood watch guard.
The case has triggered mass protests and a nationwide debate about racism, criminal justice and gun control in the United States after police initially declined to charge shooting suspect George Zimmerman because they deemed the slaying justifiable under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" laws.
Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder on Wednesday after a special prosecutor had been appointed to review the case.
The NRA has been instrumental in introducing similar legislation in 29 other states as it fights to defend the right to bear arms and undermine gun control laws.
But while the Stand Your Ground laws may be at risk of repeal, there was no mention at the NRA's leadership forum and the omission was deliberate.
"And that really is the case here."
Source: AFP American Edition