Several potential Republican presidential candidates courted gun-rights supporters Friday at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, talking up their pro-gun credentials while imploring the crowd to fight not just for their Second Amendment rights but for other freedoms they say are being threatened.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addressed the NRA’s annual leadership forum, a kind of political pep rally the organization considers one of its premier events. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire also recorded brief videos that were played for the crowd of more than 2,000 inside Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts.
One after another, the possible 2016 contenders thanked the NRA and its members for flexing their considerable political muscle to help push back recent gun-control efforts, including legislation after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that would have required background checks for gun purchases. They said that same activism will be critical heading into elections this fall, in 2016 and beyond.
Two other Republicans considered possible presidential candidates, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, didn’t attend.
Bush has attended the NRA’s past conferences and has signed legislation supported by the group. In 2005, he signed the measure that allows a person to use deadly force when threatened in public places. The law received attention in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in 2012. Bush also supports instant background checks for gun-show gun purchases, an unpopular position with the NRA.
However, Bush has kept his distance this year from such events and has been selective in making public political statements ahead of any announcement about his plans for 2016.
Christie has not been as popular with the NRA as Bush. In 2009, as a candidate for governor, he staunchly opposed a measure in Congress that would have superseded the state’s strict laws forbidding carrying concealed weapons.