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Top US gun group opens meet in combative mood

An attendee walks by a poster during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits on May 3, 2013 in Houston, Texas
An attendee walks by a poster during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits on May 3, 2013 in Houston, Texas. The National Rifle Association styled itself Friday as the champions of fundamental freedoms in the United States as it kicked off its annual c

The National Rifle Association styled itself Friday as the champions of fundamental freedoms in the United States as it kicked off its annual convention in a combative mood.

More than 70,000 members of the nation's premier gun rights organization have flocked to Texas for the three-day gathering, hard on the heels of the defeat of new federal gun laws in the US Senate.

Setting the tone for the weekend, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox accused President Barack Obama of exploiting the December massacre of 20 children and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school for political gain.

"We are the moms and dads and sons and daughters of the National Rifle Association -- and we want to prevent Newtown, not take advantage of it," he said, prompting a 30-second standing ovation.

"That's what our opponents do. They use tragedy to restrict freedom -- and it's up to us to stop them. We are freedom's greatest hope, its biggest army and its brightest future."

An attendee looks at assault rifles during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits on May 3, 2013 in Houston, Texas
An attendee looks at a display of assault rifles during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 3, 2013 in Houston, Texas.

Warming up for his keynote address scheduled to take place Saturday, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre -- on a stage festooned with US flags -- decried "a vicious effort to attack the Second Amendment and demonize lawful American gun owners."

"And yet, it's the NRA that's stepped forward with meaningful solutions that would actually help make people safer," including protecting schools "as much as we protect our jewelry stores and our sports stadiums" with armed guards, LaPierred added.

"They've called gun owners just about every rotten, lousy, nasty, evil name in the book, in judgmental tones that quite honestly most Americans resent.

"People like you all over this country have stood up to that nonsense, and NRA members... we've stared them down."

Critics of the NRA, one of the nation's most powerful lobbying organizations, have turned out in force in Houston to draw attention to the more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the United States every year.

They were reading out loud the names of around 4,000 victims of gun violence since the Newtown Elementary School shootings. They also plan a media event this weekend with US military veterans who disagree with NRA policy.

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