By Bruce Henderson, Meghan Cooke and Jessica Milicevic
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich gave a National Rifle Association audience in Charlotte a ringing defense of the Second Amendment on Saturday night and urged his listeners to go to the polls in November.
"Your mission is to organize at every level ... and to simply, decisively beat all of the (liberal-leaning candidates) and get this country back on track," he said.
Gingrich and conservative commentator Glenn Beck spoke at the NRA's Celebration of American Values Freedom Experience at Time Warner Cable Arena.
A Republican from Georgia who served as speaker from 1995 to 1999, Gingrich drew many standing ovations, including one when he recognized members of the military. "If we cease to be a people who are brave," he said "we will rapidly cease to be a people who are free."
He also drew loud applause when he talked about the right to bear arms: "It's not in defense of hunting, it's not in defense of target shooting or collecting. The Second Amendment is defense of freedom from the state."
Gingrich, known for the Contract with America that led Republicans to a House majority in 1994, is the author of 19 books, including 11 best-sellers, and next week will release "To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular Socialist Machine."
In Saturday's speech, he lashed out at Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, for her efforts to bar military recruiters from campus while she was dean at Harvard Law School.
"That is an act so unbecoming an American that she should be disqualified," Gingrich said.
The second day of Charlotte's biggest convention found NRA members attending their annual business meeting, workshops on finances and sausage processing, and seminars on snipers, hunting in Africa and methods of concealed carry.
Ten people marched outside the Charlotte Convention Center, the NRA's base this weekend, for an hourlong afternoon protest. They carried signs reading "NRA Lax Gun Laws Kill" and "End the Gun Show Loophole," referring to laws that allow private individuals to sell guns at shows without doing background checks.
"I'm fighting for American lives," said Abby Spangler of the Washington, D.C., group "Protest Easy Guns."
Many conventioneers, armed with their own opinions, showed up to watch.
"I've had a gun for 43 years and I've never killed anyone," shouted Rae Ann Effinger of Pennsylvania. "These people are ridiculous!"
"In America, you can buy a gun as easily as a candy bar," Spangler shot back. "It's the people who are buying them through the gun show loopholes who are killing people."
The sound of cocking guns echoed through the convention center's vast exhibit hall.
"I'm here for red, white and blue American values," William Marquis of Oceanside, Calif., said as he browsed vendors' displays.
Marquis, a 20-year NRA member, regularly attends the annual meetings. He said he goes to support his Second Amendment rights and enjoy the camaraderie of his fellow members.
"They're not out being criminals," he said. "They just want to have guns."
Hundreds of fans also stood in line to meet action movie star Chuck Norris, a gun-rights advocate who signed books at the convention.
Satirical one-liners touting Norris' tough-guy image fill the star's "The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book." A sample: There is no theory of evolution - just a list of animals Chuck Norris allowed to live.
But Norris was on hand to sign copies of his new book, "Black Belt Patriotism," on American culture and contemporary issues, including terrorism, immigration and national debt. Proceeds from Saturday's book sales benefited Kickstart Kids, a mentor program Norris started.
Jack Tilley of Catawba, S.C., described Norris as a "classic American hero" who served his country and stands up for his beliefs. "My wife said if I can't come home with his signature, there's no use coming home," he said.
Jack and Donna Applebaum of Manassas, Va., stood at the front of the line after arriving more than an hour early for the signing.
"Chuck Norris went for a jog going eastward," Jack Applebaum joked, "and the day got shorter."