HOUSTON--Vowing that "we will never surrender," the leader of the National Rifle Association claimed victory over recently defeated gun control legislation and denounced "political and media" elites for vilifying gun owners and supporting laws that would limit their rights rather than stop criminals.
"We will never give up or compromise our constitutional freedom -- not one single inch," NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre told hundreds of supporters at the group's annual meeting here. "This is our time to stand and fight, now, and in the next election."
LaPierre repeated his argument for placing police or armed guards in schools and questioning why gun control hasn't stopped violent crime in President Barack Obama's adopted hometown of Chicago.
"The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," LaPierre said, again drawing applause.
He pointed to the Boston Marathon bombing as evidence: "Good guys with guns stopped terrorists with guns."
Thousands have joined the NRA since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December, he said. He said the NRA membership, which now stands at five million, is determined to double in size to mobilize against new legislation they expect after the recent defeat of an expanded background-check law in the Senate.
The convention alone was expected to draw a record crowd, more than 70,000 Friday through Sunday. Saturday's annual meeting drew about 2,000.
LaPierre said Second Amendment freedom was "never more on the line than right now and through the 2014 elections."
NRA members said they left the annual meeting feeling reassured and energized.
"He told the truth," said Eddie Lee, a retired professor from McAlpin, Fla., who said he lays awake at night, worried about the fate of the country.
After hearing LaPierre, he said, "I feel a lot better."
Lee, 64, came to the convention with his son and his son's fiancée. Libertarian Wiccans, they said they disagree with some of the NRA's platform and don't fit the typical gun-enthusiast stereotype. The fiancée said she doesn't listen to Fox News personality Glenn Beck. She doesn't even own a gun. She doesn't necessarily oppose expanded background checks, although the other two do.
Lee said he would like to see those leading the NRA and the country work together, without compromising his right to bear arms.
"You have to be able to find some common ground," he said.
Others were more wary.
" 'Stand and fight' -- I love that slogan," said Robin Wooten of this year's convention theme as she left after hearing LaPierre.
Wooten, a nurse from the East Texas town of Spurger, agreed with most of what LaPierre said: she opposes expanded background checks for gun purchasers, wants armed guards in schools and more enforcement of existing gun laws.
Through a window at the convention hall, Wooten and her husband, Raymond, caught sight of about 50 gun control protesters gathered across the street, and stopped to read the signs: "Protect our children," "More guns equals more death" and "Background checks and waiting periods do not infringe the Second Amendment."
One protester was dressed as the grim reaper. Another toted a sign featuring a cheque made out to "Lobbyists" signed by LaPierre and dripping blood. They were relatives of those killed at Sandy Hook, volunteers from Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
The Wootens saw someone shouting at the protesters.
"That's a shame," said Raymond Wooten, 67, a retired state trooper.
"They have just as much a right to be here as we do," his wife added as they turned back toward the convention hall.
-- Los Angeles Times