NRA’s defiant theme: ‘Keep your hands off our guns, dammit’

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. salutes before speaking at the leadership forum at the National Rifle Association's annual convention in Friday, April 25, 2014 in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. salutes before speaking at the leadership forum at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Friday, April 25, 2014 in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Day one of the NRA’s annual meetings in Indianapolis included the heaviest hitters the event will see gathered at one time.

Govs. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.). Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Potential 2016 contenders all.

But while these names headlined the programs distributed at Lucas Oil Stadium — the cavernous, brick behemoth that plays home to the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts — it was a local-level official who best summed up the gun-rights crowd’s message of the last 12 months.

“I’m tired of seeing the Second Amendment treated like the bastard child of the Bill of Rights,” David Clarke, Milwaukee Co., Wisconsin sheriff, said during a speech.

Clarke said that if the Second Amendment is to be amended — a suggestion of former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and the de facto goal of powerful anti-gun crusaders like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — it should include the words “Keep your hands off our guns, dammit.”

That’s Clarke’s “seven-word phrase” to counter Stevens’ five-word qualifier, “when serving in the militia.”

The U.S. Constitution’s most scrutinized declaration has held up in the past year, though not without significant and repeated challenges of varying scale. The Colorado legislature pushed a highly progressive agenda that included firearms restrictions. Amid heinous gun crimes in one of that state’s cities, Aurora, and Newtown, Conn., President Obama and congressional Democrats insisted on a round of gun-control measures that they said would curb gun violence. And then there are the latest efforts of Bloomberg, whose $50-million push to counter the NRA is simply the latest of his well-funded, anti-gun endeavors.

The backlash: Gun-control state legislators in Colorado were recalled despite a massive fundraising advantage, the measures proposed at the federal level went nowhere, and Bloomberg, the fat wallet of progressivism, is now the lightening rod of the Right.

“Mr. Bloomberg, you are an arrogant hypocrite,” Chris Cox, the NRA’s top lobbyist, said to cheers inside the stadium Friday. The organization revealed a new web ad during the speakers’ event to rally fundraising support to counter the tens of millions of Bloomberg’s new group, Everytown for Gun Safety — $25 at a time.

The lawmakers on hand delivered inoffensive, red-meat remarks that pleased the crowd. Rubio wrapped his pro-gun message in an “American Dream” narrative that has become a staple of his public persona. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who recorded a video message for the event, also incorporated a signature theme — “making D.C. listen,” which gained steam during his anti-Obamacare push in late-2013 — in praising the efforts of NRA members that have pushed back the encroachment of the gun-control movement.

But an audience as invested and attentive as this had heard the gist before. It was Cox and Clarke who stirred the passions of a group that has not only had its core values questioned on a national scale, but that has become the enemy, itself. As fire fights fire, so will the dollars of Bloomberg’s group fight those of the NRA’s members.

“We’re partners now,” Clarke said to the Lucas Oil crowd before departing the stage.

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