U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a full-throated defense of gun ownership Friday, telling a National Rifle Association audience that firearms are central to achieving the American Dream.
The dream, Rubio, R-Fla., said, is not just a measure of financial prosperity but the ability to raise a family in a home that is stable, safe and secure. That, in turn, rests on the ability to possess a firearm for self-protection, the lawmaker said.
"The safety of our families is not something people should hope government can provide," Rubio told delegates to the NRA's annual convention, held this year in Indianapolis.
Rubio was one of several prospective 2016 presidential hopefuls to address the gathering, a ritual courtship for GOP contenders. Others on the bill included former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, the runner-up for the 2012 Republican nomination; and Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Mike Pence of Indiana.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire recorded videos that were played for the crowd of more than 2,000 inside Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts.
Among those appearing, Rubio may have had the most at stake in his roughly 10-minute speech. Unlike others with solid "A" ratings from the NRA, the Florida senator has gotten B and B-plus marks for being seen as insufficiently wedded to the pro-gun cause.
In his remarks Friday, Rubio was unstinting in his defense of gun owners, calling them some of the most law-abiding citizens in the country and condemning "anti-gun zealots" for using mass shootings — he did not mention any incidents by name — to pursue their goals.
Gun owners "wept and mourned just like the rest of the country" in the wake of the tragedies, Rubio said, but gun policy needs to be guided "by common sense" and not emotionalism.
"Making it harder to own a gun" is not just a waste of time, he said, but unconstitutional.
Two other Republicans considered possible presidential candidates, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, didn't attend.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.