The National Rifle Association (NRA), the most powerful US gun lobby, has started its annual meeting in the state of Texas, amid the backdrop of a national debate over gun control after December's mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Attended by more than 70,000 members from around the country, the meeting running from Friday to Sunday in Houston, will be the group's most scrutinised convention, following several recent gun attacks that have brought attention to US gun policies.
It also comes just two weeks after the group's major victory over President Barack Obama in defeating a US Senate vote over a major gun control bill, to expand background checks for gun buyers.
That theme carried throughout the day and reached a crescendo in fiery speeches from state and national conservative leaders, including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
"Second Amendment rights are personal to me," said Palin, a vice presidential nominee in 2008.
"This fight is about what kind of people we are... but what keeps me optimistic, keeps us reloading in this fight... is the faces I see here today," she said.
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the NRA, said the meeting is "an opening battle in what will be a multi-year war," against gun control proposals. "We're definitely not resting on our laurels."
Polls show more than 80 percent of Americans support expanded background checks, but the proposal to extend background checks for sales made online and at gun shows fell six votes shy on April 17 of the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate.
The proposal, which supporters have vowed to revive, is a key part of Obama's gun-control effort sparked by the school shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
The vote was a sign of the influence of the gun rights lobby, particularly the NRA, which spent $18.6m in the 2012 campaign cycle, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The NRA has more than four million members.
Well-funded lobby group
Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds, reporting from Houston, said the group was well-funded and well-supported and could have considerable political influence.
Texas Governor Rick Perry burst onto stage after a video showing him shooting a gun.
"Someone clearly impaired, filled with hate, commits a horrific crime," he said. "In the wake of these tragedies, you can almost set your watch by how long it takes for people who hate guns, hate gun owners to begin another campaign to add a new set of federal gun laws on the books."
Such laws do nothing except make it more difficult for law-abiding Americans to own guns, said Perry, who ran for president in 2012.
Speaking at the same conference, John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN, referenced the recent bomb attacks in Boston and the attack on the US embassy in Libya.
"There were a lot of Americans in Boston wishing that they had a firearm to assist them," he said.
James Porter, currently the organisation's first vice president, is also set to take over the top job on Monday.
The conference is being billed by its supporters as a celebration of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution setting out the right to bear arms.