Rudy explains shift on firearms

Rudy Giuliani, who sued firearms manufacturers and called for tough gun control as New York’s mayor, said Tuesday the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a recent court ruling framed his current defense of a right to own guns.

“You have to look at all of these issues in light of the different concerns that now exist, which is terrorism, the terrorists’ war on us,” the Republican presidential contender told The Associated Press in an interview. He also mentioned immigration and border security.

He said his thinking on gun rights also was influenced by a federal appeals court decision that overturned a 30-year-old ban on private ownership of handguns in Washington on the grounds that the Constitution gives individual citizens the right to own guns.

“It is a very, very strong description of how important personal liberties are in this country and how we have to respect them,” he said of the ruling, adding it “sort of maybe even did more to crystalize my thinking on the whole gun issue in light of Sept. 11.”

“I think, after Sept. 11 — I mean I probably would have had the same impression before, I’m not sure — but after Sept. 11, all that seemed much more powerful to me,” Giuliani said.

His embrace of gun rights appears to have occurred more recently than the months after the 2001 attacks. He was quoted in 2002 and 2004 — years later — staunchly supporting gun control.

In a 20-minute interview in a conference room at his Times Square office, Giuliani explained his thinking on the Second Amendment five days after he sought to reassure the National Rifle Association of his support for gun rights, telling the group Friday in Washington that the 2001 attacks highlighted the need for them. Before the same group, Giuliani’s rivals, Fred Thompson and John McCain, tried to exploit Giuliani’s past support for strict gun control measures.

As mayor, Giuliani sued gun makers and distributors, backed a federal assault weapons ban and once described the NRA as extremist. As a candidate for the GOP nomination, he is struggling to square that record with his need to win over a Republican base made up of conservatives who fiercely defend — and in some cases base their votes on — the Second Amendment.

He no longer argues, as gun control advocates do, that the right to bear arms applies only to the rights of states to maintain citizen militias. He now says that right also applies to individuals as well, and he cites the court ruling, Parker v. District of Columbia, that said the Second Amendment gives citizens the right to own handguns.

In the 1990s, he lobbied Congress to ban assault weapons. Now, aides have said it’s not clear he would support such a ban.

Giuliani also went from suing the gun industry in 2000 to telling the NRA on Friday that he dislikes the unintended consequences of that lawsuit, which still is working its way through the courts.

In the interview, Giuliani said, “The case took a lot of twists and turns in the direction of trying to get a lot of information about the tracing of guns that would be used for private lawsuits” instead of solely for law enforcement purposes.

“I didn’t anticipate that when I brought the case,” he said.

The ex-mayor spoke as the campaign of Democratic rival Chris Dodd and the International Association of Fire Fighters castigated him over a supporter’s fundraiser seeking $9.11 from attendees. The critics argued the event exploits the terrorist attacks for political purposes. Giuliani aides called the $9.11 idea “an unfortunate choice” that was done without the campaign’s knowledge.

On other issues in the interview, Giuliani:

–Backed President Bush’s veto threat of a bill in the Democratic-led Congress that would renew and expand a health insurance program that provides coverage for 6 million children. The bill would boost spending by $35 billion to cover 4 million more children.

“It’s a not-so-hidden step toward socialized medicine,” Giuliani said. “This is one where the Democrats are playing on emotions, but the reality of it is, it will be very, very dangerous to move children from the more desirable form of coverage, private, to the less desirable form of coverage, which is government.”

–Refused to rule out raising taxes to offset a Social Security shortfall. He said he would assemble a bipartisan group to develop ideas for fixing Social Security, perhaps even before his inauguration.

“I am opposed to tax increases, but I would look at whatever proposal they came up with and try to figure out how we can come up with a bipartisan way to do it,” Giuliani said, adding that potential solutions must come from both parties. “The reality is, I’m more concerned about Medicare and Medicaid than I am with Social Security, because I’m pretty sure we can solve Social Security.”

–Argued that he is the only Republican candidate who can ensure the party competes in Democratic-leaning states, such as California and New York.

“I think political professionals would tell you that if my opponents get the nomination, a day after the convention, no matter what they say, the Republican Party operation closes down in 20 states, and then we concentrate on the remaining states,” Giuliani said. “I think they would tell you that if I get the nomination, there’ll be a Republican Party operation in virtually every state, and then as the campaign goes on, we’ll assess where we are.”