A supporter of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney standing with an open carry hand gun demonstrates on the campus of St. Anselms College where the first New Hampshire Republican U.S. presidential debate of the 2012 campaign will take place in Manchester, New Hampshire June 13, 2011.
Credits: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Whoa, look out Charlton Heston!
He jokingly asked Alabamans earlier this year to show him "which end of the rifle to point" and has bragged about hunting "small rodents" -- mice maybe?
His lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA) - almost a prerequisite to run for the GOP - only dates back to 2006 when he began his first run for the presidency.
Still, the all-but-certain Republican standard bearer is now gunning for the hearts -- and $20 to $30 million the NRA has been known to spend in past elections - from America's powerful pro-gun lobby and addressed the group's 141st annual convention in St. Louis, MO Friday.
But instead of talking about guns - an awkward topic for the millionaire from Massachusetts - he focused on his vision of limited government compared to what he called President Barack Obama's record of big government, choking economic growth, and "eroding" liberties like gun ownership.
"This administration's attack on freedom extends even to rights explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution. The right to bear arms is so plainly stated, so unambiguous the liberals have a hard time challenging it directly.
Instead, they've been employing every imaginable ruse and ploy to restrict it and to defeat it," Romney told the crowd. "We need a President who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners "¦ We need a President who will stand up for the rights of hunters and sportsmen and those who seek to protect their homes and their families.
President Obama has not. I will."
But despite his pro-gun bluster Friday, gun owners remain suspicious of Romney, and for good reason.
As Governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Romney hiked gun license fees from $25 to $100 to help balance the budget, and also made permanent a ban on certain assault weapons. And in 1994, when Romney ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Ted Kennedy, Romney admitted he didn't "line up with the NRA" and supported the Brady Bill, a controversial 1993 law that requires licensed firearms dealers to perform criminal background checks on buyers.
The risk for Romney is if he courts the gun lobby too keenly, he could scare away moderates and independents, voters he'll need in his corner to defeat Obama in November.
And gun rights have become a divisive topic here lately as they pertain to the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.
But guns in America are not just the purview of conservatives. Recent polls have found 47% of all Americans (including 40% of Democrats) own guns, and a full 67% (55% of Democrats) even have a favourable view of the NRA.
Despite that, Obama was not scheduled to speak to the NRA, but Newt Gingrich and GOP also-rans Rick Santorum and Rick Perry were.