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Palin told NRA delegates: "The lamestream media just plain doesn't get you, and you don't give up. You don't reatreat." .

Former US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has outraged anti-gun campaigners after praising America's powerful gun lobby for not giving in to pressure to tighten laws.

Addressing tens of thousands of delegates at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association in Houston, Texas, Palin said: "The Washington establishment sneers at you, and you don't give up.

"The lamestream media just plain doesn't get you, and you don't give up. You don't retreat."

The former Governor of Alaska, who stood for office as Senator Jon McCain's running mate in 2008, urged delegates to "keep the faith" and "stand up and fight for our freedoms", saying restrictions on gun ownership would not "protect the good guys' rights".

Last month the US Senate voted down a bill aimed at imposing restrictions on gun ownership.

More than 70,000 NRA members were expected to attend the three-day convention, the first since the latest bout of national soul-searching over the gun issue was prompted by the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December.

Palin accused President Barack Obama of exploiting the tragedy in an attempt to limit the freedoms of law-abiding Americans.

She acknowledged she was saddened by the tragedy at Sandy Hook, but insisted curbs on gun ownership would do nothing to guarantee safety.

Polls show a majority of US citizens support proposals to impose enhanced background checks on gun owners.

Palin, wearing a T-shirt that said "women hunt" rounded on the media, labelling news organisations "reliable, poodle-skirted (sic) cheerleaders for a president who writes the book on exploiting tragedy".

Widening her attack, she took out a packet of cigarettes, waving them before the crowd in a jibe at Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg's call for a ban on shops displaying cigarettes.

Twenty children and six members of staff were killed at the Sandy Hook school in a shooting spree carried out by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.

Shortly after the massacre, the NRA's executive vice-president, Wayne La Pierre, offended many when he accused anti-gun campaigners of "exploiting tragedy for political gain", saying his own organisation had "remained respectfully silent".

The attack prompted renewed moves by Democrats to tighten gun ownership laws. However, a bill to introduce more background checks on gun owners was defeated in the Senate last month.

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, has said he will re-introduce the bill to require criminal and mental health background checks for gun buyers.

Some states have taken matters into their own hands, introducing gun controls without the need for national legislation.

Speaking on a visit to Mexico, Obama vowed on Saturday to press ahead with gun reforms.

"I will continue to do everything in my power to pass common-sense reforms that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people," Obama said.