CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ A week after the Million Mom March anti-gun demonstration in Washington, gun advocates planned their own rally during this weekend's annual meeting of the National Rifle Association.

``This is going to be a celebration of the Second Amendment,'' NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre promised Friday, the opening day of the group's 129th annual convention.

Today's march was scheduled prior to an address by NRA President Charlton Heston, who is expected to be re-elected to a third term when the convention concludes Monday.

``This will be the most important meetings in our history,'' Heston said in a taped message played Friday. ``We are about to have the most important election in this organization's history.

``Our gun rights are truly in peril. When the sun comes up on Nov. 8, who wins the election will determine our freedoms into the next century.''

Thousands of people on Friday milled around the hundreds of exhibits by gun-makers, hunter associations and collectors in the Charlotte Convention Center.

Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gunmaker, got a mixed reception, with some people shunning its exhibit because it agreed to put childproof locks on its pistols.

``I think it's important for the people of this country to stand by their Second Amendment rights,'' said Diane Peroutka, attending the convention with her three children. She said she would avoid the Smith & Wesson exhibit, where more than 100 handguns were displayed.

Others said that while they disagreed with Smith & Wesson's action, they still would buy their guns.

Earlier this year, Smith & Wesson announced it would install locks on all the firearms it sells to safeguard them from children, introduce ``smart gun'' technology within three years and prohibit the sale of its weapons at gun shows without a background check.

NRA leaders and other gunmakers sharply criticized Smith & Wesson for jeopardizing gun owners' Second Amendment rights, but said the company still was welcome at its convention.

``Some manufacturers aren't happy,'' said Ken Jorgenson, a spokesman for the Springfield, Mass. gunmaker. ``But we're still talking. We're a small industry.''

Smith & Wesson also will be the preferred gun retailer for law enforcement officials in 190 communities that have joined the Communities for Safer Guns Coalition. Seven other gun-makers and an industry group have challenged that arrangement in a federal lawsuit in Atlanta alleging an illegal conspiracy to retrain trade.

Also Friday, LaPierre described the group's plan to open a megastore in New York City's Times Square containing retail space, a restaurant and virtual shooting ranges.

Meanwhile, NRA opponents launched a slate of vigils and marches with a news conference at which Michael Barnes, president of Handgun Control and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence in Washington, D.C., pledged to ``remind the public of the NRA's hypocrisy when it comes to preventing gun violence.''

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On the Net:

National Rifle Association: http://www.nra.org

Smith & Wesson: http://www.smith-wesson.com

Million Mom March: http://www.millionmommarch.com

Handgun Control and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence: http://www.handguncontrol.org