HOUSTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and national media are demonizing law-abiding gun owners in the wake of recent violent acts, National Rifle Association leaders and political allies said on Friday at its first convention since the Connecticut school massacre.
"Our freedom is under attack like never before," Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, said during a leadership forum. "When a deranged criminal murders innocent children, they blame us."
The NRA is the nation's leading advocate for gun ownership. It works assiduously to defend the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution setting out the right to bear arms.
Organizers expect some 70,000 attendees at the 142nd NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Houston, which began on Friday and continues through Sunday. Since last year's meeting, a national debate about gun laws sprang up after the December shooting at Newtown, Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were killed.
The NRA scored a major victory in Congress last month when it beat back a proposal supported by Obama to expand background checks for gun buyers.
At the leadership forum, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, thanked those who fought against the background checks proposal and other efforts to tighten gun control.
"That's your victory," Cruz said. "It's the victory of the American people."
But Cruz cautioned that the fight is not over. Supporters of the proposal, which is a key part of Obama's gun-control effort sparked by the Newtown shooting, have vowed to revive it.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who burst onto stage after a video showing him shooting a gun, described what he sees as a pattern: When a hate-filled person commits a horrific act, people who hate guns and hate gun owners call for more gun laws, he said. Creating more laws that criminals will ignore is not the solution, said Perry, a Republican.
"They do nothing but make it harder for law-abiding Americans to own guns," Perry said.
No one likes gun violence - especially NRA members, said the governor, who has been working to convince gun manufacturers in states considering tighter gun control to move to Texas.
NRA members are working to make people safer by proposing solutions such as enforcing existing laws, fixing the mental health system and protecting schools, said NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. They are teachers, firefighters, volunteers, moms and taxpayers, he said.
"The media and political elites can lie about us and demonize us all they want, but that won't stop us," LaPierre said. "We are Americans, we are proud of it and we are going to defend our freedom."
In the exhibit hall, more than 550 vendors showed off everything from rifles and targets to offers of hunting safaris.
Seminars offered on Friday included a personal safety workshop called "Refuse to be a Victim" and a chef-taught class on cooking wild game.
Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune and Andre Grenon