PHOENIX (AP) – The drug war in Mexico shouldn’t be used as an excuse to try to restrict American gun rights, Sen. John McCain said Friday at the National Rifle Association’s convention.

The Arizona Republican and former presidential candidate told thousands of people in Phoenix that the United States needs to do more to crack down on gun smuggling into Mexico, but that such assistance in Mexico’s war against drug cartels doesn’t require restrictions on the gun rights of law-abiding Americans.

“It should be noted that any effort to restrict gun ownership in the U.S. will not stop Mexican cartels from acquiring guns and ammunition from other countries,” McCain said. He added that cartels are already getting grenades and other weapons from other countries.

McCain said the cartels threaten the security of the United States because America doesn’t have a secure southern border and has a big appetite for illegal drugs from Mexico. Kidnappings tied to drug and immigrant smuggling have earned Phoenix the title of America’s kidnapping capital.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is waging a war against his country’s powerful drug cartels. The drug organizations also are fighting each other for the most lucrative drug and immigrant smuggling routes into the United States.

Calderon has sent more than 45,000 soldiers to drug hotspots beginning in December 2006. More than 10,750 people have died in drug violence since then. Federal agents say many guns recovered at killings in Mexico were smuggled there through the United States.

Like other speakers at the NRA convention, McCain said the U.S. government has overstated the prevalence of guns being smuggled from the United States into Mexico.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Democrats are using violence reported in the news to frighten the public and push proposals – such as a revival of the expired assault weapons ban – that would restrict the gun rights of law-abiding people.

“In February, President Obama’s administration concocted a crazy theory that crime in Mexico could and should be prevented by banning guns in America,” Steele said.

Obama has said he respects Second Amendment rights, but favors “common sense” on gun laws. In February, Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration wanted to bring back the assault weapons ban, but dozens of congressional Democrats oppose such a move.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who has asked the federal government for more National Guard troops to respond to her state’s problems from immigrant and drug smuggling, said the answer to violence along America’s southwestern border shouldn’t be to take away gun rights.

“The issue is to secure the border and leave the Second Amendment freedoms alone,” Brewer said.

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