ATLANTA – President Donald Trump reaffirmed his support for gun rights Friday, telling attendees of a National Rifle Association convention that “the eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.”

Trump, the first sitting president to address the group’s annual convention in more than 30 years, assured the audience that he would defend their right to bear arms in a campaign-like speech reminiscent of his election rallies.

“You have a true friend and champion in the White House,” he said.

The president’s trip to Atlanta also served as his first foray into a congressional race since taking office. After delivering his NRA remarks, the president headed to a private fundraiser for Republican congressional candidate Karen Handel, who is running in a special congressional race that has become a national referendum on his presidency.

During the speech, the president congratulated Handel and urged Republicans to support her.

“She’s totally for the NRA, and she’s totally for the Second Amendment, so get out and vote,” he said.

Trump has been a champion of NRA efforts to loosen restrictions on gun ownership. During the campaign, he promised to do away with President Barack Obama’s efforts to strengthen background checks and to eliminate gun-free zones at schools and military bases.

The last president to address an NRA convention was Ronald Reagan, who spoke to the 1983 gathering, according to the powerful gun rights lobby.

Trump’s appearance in Atlanta sparked protests from people advocating for stricter gun control measures.

They included Steve Hagen, who called the NRA’s push for federal legislation to make any state’s concealed-carry permits valid nationwide “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“I guess the promoters are throwing states’ rights out the window,” Hagen, a 68-year-old from the Atlanta suburb of Tucker. “It’s just crazy.”

Opponents of the bill say the move would effectively turn the weakest gun standards in the nation into the law of the land. The GOP-led Congress already passed a resolution to block a rule that would have kept guns out of the hands of certain people with mental disorders, and Trump quickly signed it.

Trump boasts of owning a pair of guns and mentioned again on Friday that his two adult sons are avid hunters. He stirred controversy during the campaign when he suggested that “Second Amendment people” could stop his opponent Hillary Clinton, which some interpreted to be a call for violence against the Democratic nominee. Trump disputed that charge.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on the plane trip from Washington that NRA members supported Trump during the election based on his strong commitment to gun rights.

© © Copyright 2017, Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem, NC

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