DALLAS (CN) – President Donald Trump pledged Friday to continue to protect Second Amendment rights in light of recent mass shootings during a relaxed and free-wheeling address at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Dallas.
Trump praised the 80,000 attendees of the four-day gathering at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center for “never stopping to fight” for the U.S. Constitution, saying they have never taken the right to bear arms for granted.
“Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never be under siege as long as I am your president,” Trump told the applauding crowd during a speech that was more reminiscent of a campaign rally.
His remarks contradict statements in February that he would not shy away from fighting the NRA after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that killed 17 people.
After meeting with student survivors and parents, Trump said at the time he would support higher minimum age restrictions for certain rifles – a policy the NRA opposes – and tighter background checks with emphasis on mental health.
But on Friday, Trump openly mocked gun control advocates during his hour-long speech, sarcastically suggesting that trucks and vans should be outlawed now that Islamic terrorists have used them in New York City and throughout Europe to run over and kill large numbers of people.
“It seems that if we are going to outlaw guns like so many want to do, like Democrats … you better get out and vote,” he said. “We are going to have to outlaw immediately all vans and trucks, which are now the new form of death.”
Trump implored attendees to vote in November’s midterm elections, touting his administration delivering on key campaign promises. He told them to not be complacent.
“Ninety percent of the time you win the presidency and for whatever reason you lose the midterm,” he said. “We cannot let that happen. The word is complacent.”
Vice President Mike Pence echoed Trump’s embrace of the NRA, telling attendees immediately before Trump’s speech that both men “stand without apology” for the Second Amendment.
“In this administration, the right of the people to keep and bear arms will not be infringed,” Pence said.
Pence said it is possible to “protect public safety and due process at the same time.”
Trump appeared to wander from his script several times, taking time to thank rapper Kanye West for his statements on social media that he loves the president.
“Kanye West must have some power – I doubled my African-American poll numbers,” Trump said. “It went from 11 [percent] to 22 in one week. Thank you, Kanye. Thank you.”
West has faced growing backlash from fans and fellow entertainers after tweeting a selfie last week wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat and stating that he believes slavery was a choice.
Trump also continued his criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion with Russia by his campaign. Trump read aloud from a news report about a federal judge stating hours earlier that the money-laundering case against former campaign manager Paul Manafort was meant to hurt Trump.
The president repeated his accusations that the investigation is a “witch hunt.”
“Manafort was there for a short while but he is a good person,” Trump said. “I really believe he is a good person.”
Trump said the administration was “doing really well” regarding North Korea. He told the crowd he is trying to “calm it down a bit” regarding his criticism of the hermit state after a successful face-to-face meeting between dictator Kim Jong-un and South Korea President Moon Jae-in at the Korean Demilitarized Zone last week.
Trump had threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” last year as it conducted highly provocative nuclear missile test launches over neighboring Japan.
Before departing for the NRA convention in Dallas, Trump told reporters at the White House Friday morning that a time and place has been set for highly anticipated talks between himself and Kim.
Several protests were expected outside the convention center by Trump and NRA opponents, but a steady rain appeared to discourage some of them from showing up.