Donald Trump to fire up supporters at NRA’s annual US gathering

By Gram Slattery

DALLAS (Reuters) – U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will address thousands of gun rights supporters in Dallas on Saturday, in what will be an opportunity to whip up enthusiasm among some of his core supporters.

The former president is set to speak at the annual National Rifle Association Leadership Forum at 2 p.m. CDT (1900 GMT). It will be the ninth time Trump addresses the nation’s top gun lobby and, as in the past, he is expected to strongly oppose new restrictions on firearm ownership.

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 took a series of steps sought by the influential gun lobby. That included designating firearm shops as essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to stay open.

Republicans, with the support of the NRA and other gun rights groups, largely oppose stricter gun laws, citing the right to bear arms established in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. That stance has remained fixed even in the face of a steady stream of mass shootings that have led to calls from many Democrats to impose more controls on guns.

In a February speech to a separate NRA gathering, Trump promised to rescind a rule curbing sales of gun accessories known as pistol braces and other regulations put in place by Democratic President Joe Biden‘s administration.

Surveys show gun regulations are a divisive issue in the U.S., though a strong majority of Americans support at least some limits.

In a March Reuters/Ipsos survey, 53% of respondents said the government should regulate gun ownership, while 38% of respondents disagreed. Among Republicans, only 35% said the government should be involved.

Nachama Soloveichik, a Republican strategist who worked on Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign, said the NRA gathering would be an opportunity for Trump to excite his base and ensure that his supporters show up at the polls on Nov. 5. For many rural voters – a group that disproportionately supports Trump – gun rights are sacrosanct, she added.

While many independent voters do not favor loosening gun control laws, most are focused on other issues this election cycle, like immigration, inflation and abortion rights, she said.

It is unclear whether Trump will make any new policy pronouncements on Saturday, though conservative groups are challenging several Biden administration regulations.

Conservatives, for instance, widely oppose a 2022 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives rule that put new regulations on “ghost guns,” which can typically be assembled from kits that are bought online. The Supreme Court said in April it would consider the fate of that rule.

Heritage Action, a major conservative advocacy group, announced on Thursday that it would lobby against a new Commerce Department rule that puts limits on gun exports to foreign individuals in some countries. The Commerce Department says the measure will keep guns out of the hands of foreign criminals and terrorists, while Heritage Action said there is little proof selling guns to foreign individuals harms national security.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery in Washington; Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)

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