WASHINGTON -- National Rifle Assn. Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre lobbed a scathing critique at President Obama's second inaugural address Tuesday night, warning that turning away from "absolutism" puts constitutional rights at risk.
LaPierre's speech, delivered at the Weatherby Foundation International Hunting and Conservation Awards in Reno, targeted one line in particular from Obama's Monday address: the president's declaration that "we cannot mistake absolutism for principle."
"Obama wants to turn the idea of absolutism into a dirty word -- just another word for extremism," LaPierre said.
He later added, "Mr. President, you might think calling us absolutists is a clever way of name-calling without using names. But if that is absolutist, then we are as absolutist as our Founding Fathers and the framers of our United States Constitution. And we are proud of it."
LaPierre reiterated what he and other NRA officials have said publicly in recent weeks: that major changes to gun laws, such as those proposed by Obama last week, would face strenuous opposition from the gun rights lobby. He denounced stricter background checks as burdensome to law-abiding gun owners, particularly those who want to pass along family heirlooms.
The White House has proposed requiring background checks on all gun sales, including those by private sellers. But in a summary of its proposals, the administration suggested certain "common-sense" exceptions to the rule, such as transfers between family members.
"[Obama] wants to put every private, personal firearms transaction right under the thumb of the federal government and he wants to keep all of those names in a massive federal registry," LaPierre said. "There's only two reasons for a federal list on gun owners -- to either tax 'em or take 'em."
LaPierre also rejected Obama's calls to ban semiautomatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
"We believe we deserve and have every right to the same level of freedom that our government leaders keep for themselves, and the same capabilities and the same technologies that criminals use to prey upon us and our families," he said.
"That means we believe in our right to defend ourselves and our families with semiautomatic firearms technology," he added. "We believe that if neither the criminal nor the political class and their bodyguards and security people aren't limited by magazine capacity, we shouldn't be limited in our capacity either."
Obama's inaugural speech had only one brief allusion to gun violence: "Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm."
But it was the president's call to reject absolutism that attracted the bulk of LaPierre's ire.
"Barack Obama is saying the only principled way to make children safe is to make lawful citizens less safe and violent criminals more safe," LaPierre said. "Criminals couldn't care less about Barack Obama's so-called principles. They don't have principles. That's why they're called criminals."
Later, he said, "Absolutists do exist," adding that absolutism is why the Bill of Rights was written into law.
"Without those absolutes, without those protections, democracy decays into nothing more than two wolves and one lamb voting on who to eat for lunch," LaPierre said.