WHITE HOUSE —
U.S. President Donald Trump fiercely defended the right to gun ownership on Friday, telling the National Rifle Association “the eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.”
An estimated 10,000 NRA delegates welcomed the president with thunderous applause in Atlanta, Georgia, where he became the first president to address the group since Ronald Reagan in 1983.
The president told the attendees he wanted to assure them of “the sacred right of self-defense for all of our citizens” and vowed “I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to bear arms.”
Watch: Why Gun Sales Are Down Under Trump
The gun rights issue has become highly polarizing in America, particularly after a string of gun-related massacres around the country, including at schools.
Trump, who supported tougher gun restrictions before he entered the political arena, noted he was the only presidential candidate during last year's campaign to address the NRA.
WATCH: President's Speech in Atlanta
No guns allowed in arena
Critics reacted swiftly to Trump's remarks before delegates who were not permitted to carry their guns into the arena.
“There were about as many facts in Trump's speech as there were guns in that room,” said Brendan Kelly, the press secretary for the Brady Foundation Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
“He offered shallow support for gun lobby policies that are actually both opposed by law enforcement officers and getting them killed,” Kelly told VOA. “Trump's real audience today was not the decent, law abiding members of the NRA. It was the leaders of the gun industry who gave him $30 million and their lapdog politicians.”
The Brady Foundation is named for former White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was shot in the head and severely wounded during an assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981.
Trump has already signed a bill to roll back gun restrictions implemented by former President Barack Obama. Trump reversed an order that would have required the federal government to provide information about mentally ill people undergoing background checks for gun purchases.
“No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners,” Trump told the crowd.
Demonstrators protest event
The NRA is also pushing for a federal “concealed-carry reciprocity” law that would validate nationwide any state's concealed-carry permits. The gun lobby group also aims to eliminate gun-free zones at schools and relax state requirements for background checks.
Gun control advocates maintain validating state permits throughout the U.S. would effectively turn the weakest state standards into national law.
Demonstrators gathered in Atlanta to protest the gathering of the nation's most powerful gun lobby group.
Two of the groups demonstrating were Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense of America, which was formed after the 2012 shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in the northeastern town of Newtown, Connecticut.
"Turn off cable. Don't Watch'
During Trump's speech, a U.S. senator from the state of Connecticut, Democrat Chris Murphy, took to the Twitter social media platform (@ChrisMurphyCT) to tweet names and photos of people who have been killed by guns after stating “Here's my advice. Turn off cable. Don't watch @realDonaldTrump's NRA speech. Instead, think about who we are fighting for.”
Moms Demand Action co-founder Shannon Watts said in a statement to VOA that a top priority for gun control groups is defeating the concealed-carry reciprocity initiative.
“That's why Moms Demand Action volunteers and gun violence survivors are in Atlanta this weekend, and it's why we'll continue to show up in D.C. (the District of Columbia) and in statehouses and boardrooms across the country until our nation's lawmakers put the safety of our families and communities above the profits of the gun lobby,” she said.