WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate John McCain lobbed a thinly veiled attack at fellow rival Rudy Giuliani, describing the former mayor's "devious" attempt with a lawsuit "to bankrupt our great gun manufacturers."
Giuliani said he preferred to focus on the lion's share of issues on which he and the National Rifle Association agree.
Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., and the former New York mayor are among several officials speaking Friday at a National Rifle Association conference.
In his prepared speech, McCain refers to a lawsuit by Giuliani and other mayors against the gun industry, to Giuliani's shifting Second Amendment position and to Giuliani's use of the term "extremists" in relation to the NRA.
"My friends, gun owners are not extremists; you are the core of modern America," McCain said in the prepared remarks. "The Second Amendment is unique in the world and at the core of our constitutional freedoms. It guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms. To argue anything else is to reject the clear meaning of our founding fathers.
"But the clear meaning of the Second Amendment has not stopped those who want to punish firearms owners _ and those who make and sell firearms _ for the actions of criminals," McCain said.
He mentioned "a particularly devious effort to use lawsuits to bankrupt our great gun manufacturers."
"A number of big-city mayors decided it was more important to blame the manufacturers of a legal product than it was to control crime in their own cities," McCain said.
Ironically, a federal court in New York will hear arguments Friday on the lawsuit Giuliani filed as mayor against gun makers and distributors over violent crimes involving guns.
Giuliani said Thursday he doesn't comment on pending lawsuits.
"I think right now, the best approach is to focus on what can be done at the state and local level to deal with criminals who use guns, given the level of crime in this country and what's happened with it, as opposed to where we were maybe 10, 12 years ago," he said at a news conference in northern Virginia.
"What's needed in this country right now is to focus on people who use guns and use them illegally," he said.
Giuliani said candidates sometimes disagree with interest groups.
"Tomorrow, when I go before the NRA, I'm going to emphasize the areas in which I think there is a great deal of agreement," he said, adding that he would outline those commonalities on Friday.
Borrowing a phrase from President Reagan, he said, "As I've said many, many times, my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy."
On the Second Amendment, Giuliani has said the right to bear arms applies to militias but also said recently that it applies to individuals.
He described the NRA as "extremists" in a 1995 interview with PBS' Charlie Rose: "The NRA, for some reason, I think goes way overboard. It's almost what the extremists on the other side do. I think the extremists of the left and the extremists of the right have essentially the same tactic _ the slippery slope theory. `If you give one point, then your entire argument is going to fall apart,' and we kind of get destroyed by that," Giuliani said.