HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) -Former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner in the 2024 presidential race, said on Friday he had firmly protected gun rights while in the White House and vowed if re-elected to undo all restrictions enacted by President Joe Biden.
Speaking to thousands of supporters at an event organized by the National Rifle Association (NRA), Trump promised to rescind a rule curbing sales of gun accessories known as pistol braces and other regulations put in place by the Biden administration.
“Every single Biden attack on gun owners and manufacturers will be terminated my very first week back in office, perhaps my first day,” Trump said in a speech at the Great American Outdoor show in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania.
The NRA enthusiastically backed Trump during the 2016 race and throughout his administration, cheering him on as he appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court and adopted a series of steps sought by the influential gun lobby. These included designating firearm shops as essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to stay open.
Seeing conservative gun owners as critical to his re-election chances, Trump has continued to court them aggressively. He told the crowd on Friday that if he is re-elected “no one will lay a finger on your firearms” and bragged about resisting pressure to implement gun restrictions during his term in the White House from 2017 to 2021.
“During my four years nothing happened, and there was great pressure on me having to do with guns. We did nothing, we didn’t yield,” Trump said.
Republicans, with the support of the NRA and other gun rights groups, largely oppose stricter laws, citing the right to bear arms established in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. That stance has remain fixed even in the face of a steady stream of mass shootings, and with the United States registering the highest rate of gun deaths among rich countries.
At Friday’s address, Trump’s eighth in front of an NRA crowd, he urged his supporters to “swamp” the polls in November, a recognition that he needs the battleground state he lost in 2020 if he wants to retake the White House.
Ahead of Trump’s speech, the Democratic National Committee put up a billboard in Harrisburg referring to comments Trump made following a school shooting in Iowa in January, when he expressed condolences before telling his supporters they had “to get over it,” and needed “to move forward.”
“Donald Trump to victims of gun violence: ‘get over it’,” the billboard reads.
The Biden campaign held a call on Friday with reporters about Trump and the NRA. One speaker was Maxwell Frost, a 27-year-old Florida congressman who said he got into politics to stop school shootings and enact stronger gun laws.
“We have Republican politicians like Donald Trump, who are all too willing to stand by and watch kids senselessly die, because he’s bought and paid for by the NRA,” Frost said.
Trump’s speech came one day after he won Republican presidential nominating caucuses in Nevada and the U.S. Virgin Islands, moving closer to the nomination and a likely general election rematch with Biden.
Trump again on Friday raised questions about Biden’s mental acuity, the day after a Department of Justice special counsel report said Biden, 81, suffered from memory lapses, even as it concluded he should not be charged in a probe into his handling of classified documents.
The White House blasted that characterization and called the report “clearly politically motivated.”
Trump, 77, has his own history of gaffes, recently confusing Republican rival Nikki Haley with the former Democratic speaker of the House, occasionally appearing to slur his words and suggesting former Democratic President Barack Obama was still in office.
On Friday Trump made a number of false or misleading statements, including the assertion that he had won Pennsylvania twice.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and William Mallard)
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