ST. LOUIS (AP) - Thousands of gun enthusiasts will get a chance to hear from three of the four Republican presidential contenders next week when the National Rifle Association hosts its annual meeting and exhibit in St. Louis.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said Tuesday that more than 60,000 people have registered for the April 13-15 gathering at the America's Center convention center, and the number is expected to grow with late registrations. St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Donna Andrews said the convention is expected to be the city's largest in terms of attendance this year.
GOP presidential contenders Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are scheduled to be among the speakers at the NRA Leadership Forum on April 13. Arulanandam said Ron Paul was invited but did not respond.
Arulanandam said the presidential hopefuls will speak separately and will not be on the stage at the same time.
"The attendees at this forum will have a chance to listen to these candidates firsthand, hear what they have to say about the Second Amendment, gun rights and other issues important to our members," Arulanandam said.
The Leadership Forum will also include speeches from several other Republican politicians, including three governors - Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin; two senators - Roy Blunt of Missouri and Chuck Grassley of Iowa; and two congressmen, Darrell Issa of California and Eric Cantor of Virginia. Oliver North and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton will also speak.
Politics will be a key component of the annual members meeting on Saturday, when Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and Executive Director Chris Cox will discuss the upcoming election season.
Arulanandam said the NRA will not issue an endorsement for the Republican presidential nomination, but, "Our primary focus is going to be to defeat President Obama."
A massive trade show will also be part of the convention, as will performances by comedian Larry the Cable Guy and country singer Trace Adkins, and a speech by talk show host Glenn Beck.
The convention returns to St. Louis for the second time in five years. It was originally scheduled to be in Columbus, Ohio, in 2007, but was moved to St. Louis after Columbus approved a ban on assault weapons.