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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani addresses the National Rifle Association today. He says he's always been in favor of a state-by-state approach to gun control.

But Andrea Bernstein of member station WNYC reports that things were different when he was the mayor of New York City.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN: On January 1, 1994, Rudy Giuliani, the steely former prosecutor, was sworn in as mayor of New York City. For the first time in a quarter century, the crime weary city had a Republican mayor.

When Giuliani gave his state of the city address later that month, he served up tough talk leavened with the kind of proposal a liberal could love.

Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Republican Mayor, New York City): National registration of guns is critically important for us to start getting a handle on what's going on outside of New York.

BERNSTEIN: It's a position he never left for the eight years he was mayor. In 1997 when a gunman killed a tourist and wounded six others on the observation deck of the Empire State Building with a semi-automatic weapon purchased in Florida, the mayor quickly convened a news conference. There, he singled out Florida for having one of the loosest and least effective gun control laws in the country.

Mr. GIULIANI: There should be a national licensing law. The laws in New York should be roughly the uniform laws in the rest of the country.

BERNSTEIN: In a town hall discussion in May 2000, Giuliani said he'd never wavered on gun control since his days as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department.

Mr. GIULIANI: And I'd like to see it go further. I've favored the waiting period. I've strongly lobbied for it. I think I'm one of many reasons, but one of the reasons why it got passed in the first place because a Republican mayor was willing to go around the country supporting it.

BERNSTEIN: It wasn't just that Giuliani was embracing a position that the NRA loathes. In 1995, on the Charlie Rose show, he directly took on the gun rights group for opposing an assault weapons ban.

Mr. GIULIANI: The NRA, for some reason, I think goes way overboard. I mean, they - it's almost what the extremists on the other side do. I think the extremists on the left and the extremists on the right have essentially the same tactic.

BERNSTEIN: His willingness to distance himself from the National Republican Party was one of the reasons he was resoundingly re-elected in this Democratic city.

But now he's running in a different election, with a different base, and his statements have a different focus. This was Giuliani earlier this month at a candidate debate in New Hampshire asked by FOX News' Wendell Goler his current views on gun control.

Mr. WENDELL GOLER (Correspondent, FOX News): And the idea of letting college students carry weapons?

Mr. GIULIANI: I think states have a right to decide that. I mean, states have a right to decide their gun laws.

BERNSTEIN: The Giuliani campaign deflects questions about whether his views on guns have changed by pointing out that he ran a city that saw a 66 percent cut in the murder rate while he was mayor. And, while his past comments may not please some NRA members, the best the campaign can hope for is that his current position may ease any serious opposition.

For NPR News, I'm Andrea Bernstein in New York.

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