Firing Off

Newt Gingrich Calls for Universal Right to Bear Arms at NRA Forum

The flagging candidate appeals to a receptive gun lobby to revive his insurgent campaign. By Michael Ames.

Michael Conroy / AP Photo

If the Republican presidential nomination were decided by the volume and energy of applause from thousands of National Rifle Association members gathered today in St. Louis, Newt Gingrich might yet have a shot at greatness.

Friday’s Celebration of American Values Leadership forum featured speeches by Mitt Romney, recent contender Rick Santorum, plus conservative stars like former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. But members of the influential gun lobby today reserved their greatest enthusiasms not for their presumptive nominee Romney, but for Newt Gingrich, a candidate who perseveres to the wonderment of many and the joy of some.

Romney spoke before Gingrich and focused mainly on general-election themes and descriptions of President Obama’s governing philosophies. “Our founders created a system of government that is limited. Barack Obama is leading us away from that vision,” Romney said. “President Obama is leading toward a government of limited freedom and limited opportunity.”

The stump speech painted the election in broad brush strokes, contrasting the bright hope of freedom, a word Romney used nearly two-dozen times,

against the dark threats of a massive, sun-blocking bureaucracy that he said flourishes under Obama.

Romney cannot claim a life of gun enthusiasm. The director of the NRA’s lobbying branch, Chris Cox, introduced the former Massachusetts governor

as a “life member of the NRA,” but Romney signed up for his lifetime membership just six years ago, when he first explored running for president as a Republican.

Nor can the NRA claim a long courtship of Romney. In 2002, the lobby did not endorse his run for governor, despite his Meet the Press claim to the contrary. In that race, the NRA gave Romney a B grade, but gave his Democratic opponent, Shannon O’Brien, a sterling A.

Today in St. Louis, Romney repeated his support for Second Amendment rights as elemental, and he focused on the power of the judiciary to protect that right. Romney warned that a second Obama term would “remake” the Supreme Court and imperil the future of gun rights. “Our freedoms,” he said, would be in hands of an Obama court “not just for four years, but for 40,” he said.

The crowd was appreciative of the man who will likely court their votes this fall, but the NRA faithful became far more animated for Gingrich. With his characteristic flourish for sweeping and historical ideas, the former House speaker laid out a guideline for an international gun-rights movement that the NRA’s Cox called “the Gingrich Doctrine.”

“The right to bear arms comes from our creator, not our government,” Gingrich said. The NRA “has been too timid” in promoting its agenda beyond American borders. The Bill of Rights was not written only for Americans, he said. “It is a universal document.”

“A Gingrich presidency will submit to the UN a treaty that extends the right to bear arms as a human right to every person on the planet.” Every world citizen, he said, “deserves the right to defend themselves from those who exploit, imprison, or kill them.” For his latest big idea, Gingrich earned a standing ovation from the crowd of roughly 5,000.

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“We don’t need to go across the planet trying to impose American values, but we do need to go across the planet spreading human values,” Gingrich said. “The Second Amendment is a right for all mankind.”

Many establishment Republicans have openly called for Gingrich to give up his quest. His refusal to submit has been described as egomaniacal and destructive. But in St. Louis on Friday, the man who handily won the South Carolina primary but whose campaign is running on financial fumes, seemed as confident as ever.

“This is still a more open nomination process than anyone in the elite media believes,” Gingrich said.