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Remarks By James Jay Baker

Wednesday, June 23, 1999

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for the kind introduction. I appreciate the invitation to come speak here today, and believe me, it`s a relief to get out of Washington after the past couple of weeks. I am proud to be a long-time member of the Outdoor Writers` Association myself. The publishers of Shooting Times have been gracious enough to give me a monthly personal soapbox for nearly ten years now, and while very little of what I write about takes place outdoors, our work certainly does have implications for all hunters, conservationists, and aficionados of the shooting sports. I know that many of you have seen, read or heard about the speech recently given by NRA`s president, Charlton Heston, at Harvard University, entitled "The Culture Wars." I`m here to provide an update from the front, where we have now moved beyond the point where the issue is purely one of rhetoric. Last Friday`s Washington Post accurately described the situation, for once, with the following headline: "Culture Wars Erupt in Debate on Capitol Hill." I`ve spent the last six weeks in the trenches of this cultural war, in the context of congressional debate over juvenile justice legislation. While the House of Representatives voted last Friday to kill the entire package of firearm restrictions, it`s not the end of the battle. It`s just the beginning, not of a battle but of a war, to eliminate the entire culture of hunting, shooting, and wildlife conservation. I can tell what you`re thinking -- this is starting to sound like an apoplectic fundraiser mailing. But I wouldn`t be here today if I didn`t know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are facing a concerted effort to eliminate the full range of freedoms and traditions that your industry chronicles. I also wouldn`t be here today unless I felt that you had a pivotal role to play, and that our time is quickly running out. Bill Clinton himself fired the opening shots. Immediately after the tragedy in Littleton, he hosted a media production to justify his only policy response to the tragedy -- an enormous package of firearm restrictions that his Administration has not otherwise been unable to ramrod through the Congress. Not for any lack of trying. In the cold, purely political calculus of the White House, Littleton merely provided a convenient opening to try again. And in protesting the efforts of any who might disagree with his agenda, Bill Clinton uttered perhaps the most chillingly honest words we have ever heard from him, when he said "The problem is, we have another culture in our country ... When there are no constituents for this movement (of hunting and sport shooting), the movement will evaporate." "Evaporate." No longer is the anti-gun, anti-hunting movement satisfied to chip away at our rights and freedoms by isolating individual sports, firearms, and hunting practices for attack. We have now been identified as the next targets of a social war, in which the singular goal is the elimination of the movement. By movement, they mean you, me and millions of other individuals who only want to protect our heritage. Those who want nothing less than the end of our hunting and shooting have many assets on their side, and we saw many of them in play during Senate debate over the juvenile justice bill. The ever-increasing number, and increasingly pervasive influence, of media delivery methods -- from 24-hour news to the Internet -- have shortened the news cycle to a point where it has withered the collective attention span of America. Votes can be taken in the Congress, while Bill Clinton offers running commentary from the Rose Garden and the pundits analyze debate over buzzwords that have yet to be defined, all in the space of minutes. Flash polls are taken and their methodological faults are lost in the next wave of breathless commentary. Media figures like Rosie O`Donnell manipulate their audiences for personal political agendas, driving a complacent viewing public to undertake any action that can be quickly copied off the screen -- the same screen that now presents, for many Americans, their only pipeline to a world beyond the running range of their minivan. Enormous issues of national policy can be, and often are, decided in less time that it takes you or I to scout a deer trail. These were the factors in play when the Senate spent nearly two weeks stampeding over the most fashionable issues in the current anti-gun agenda. Even while advocates of gun control brazenly admitted that the issues had nothing to do with Littleton, several members of the Senate beat hasty retreats from long-standing records of support for America`s gun owners. President Clinton gleefully orchestrated the stampede, feeding the eager cameras a constant stream of sanctimony. The media played its designated role, rushing headlong to the Senate press gallery every time another politico rattled off a focus-group-tested sound bite invoking the victims of the aberrational violence that haunted Littleton, and then Conyers, Georgia. The results of this deafening rush to judgment were easy to predict -- the Senate abandoned rational debate and rushed to safe harbor from the media onslaught, by doing what Clinton told them to do. It`s no coincidence that many of the legislative provisions currently under debate focus on restricting youth access to firearms. But the perpetrators of Littleton were violent aberrations, anomalies against a backdrop of millions of young Americans who have handle firearms responsibly every day. When Hillary Clinton decreed that, "Children and guns don`t even belong in the same sentence," she insulted the millions of American families who live in America`s open spaces, teaching their children the noble traits of responsibility, safety, and self-sufficiency by tutoring them in marksmanship, conservation, and gun safety. This backhanded assault on generations of tradition and American heritage was parroted by the media, complete with the latest poll results that predictably show agreement with the agenda the pollster has been instructed to corroborate. And they know the power of language -- just as buzzwords like "assault weapons" and "cop killer bullets" were invented to justify plain old gun control proposals, so now they have hijacked the term "gun safety" to describe anything but. Just as predictably, every complicated new restriction was put forth as somehow necessary "for the children." This shameless bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand is quite intentional, meant to shame the opposition into guilty retreat. Who could be against the children? Yet the selfish adoption of these anonymous children reflects an attitude that is alarmingly elitist. What about our children? In effect, we are being told that we are a dangerous influence to our own flesh and blood. That by passing along our traditions of responsibility, self-reliance and stewardship for the land, we are leading our children astray into a dark netherworld of poisonous violence. The same netherworld, by the way, that is daily portrayed as entertainment by the same media conglomerates that drive the anti-gun agenda. In truth, it is about the children -- it`s about driving them away from the outdoor life that we cherish so deeply, by filling suburban society with a deep and pervading suspicion of all the outdoor traditions that we have enjoyed since we landed on this continent. Inevitably, the culture war is also about demographics. The nature of change in our society is relentless and implacable, and for the past several decades we have watched the sprawl of strip malls, townhouses and parking lots consume enormous amounts of wildlife habitat. While we take comfort in the seemingly endless reach and bounty of our open spaces, we must also recognize that societal attitudes are moving far beyond the clear evidence of construction debris that progressively litters the landscape. The effort to eliminate our traditions, to evaporate our movement, pervades our entire nation. Many pundits attempt to paint the gun control debate as one purely of party, and it is true that Bill Clinton has successfully dragged his party apparatus to the fringes of the gun control debate. Yet we saw in the House that many Democrats will defy their president to stand in support of our outdoor traditions, and that many Republicans will sacrifice loyalty to their leadership to attack these same traditions. These differences are not rooted in party, personality, or ideology -- they are a direct reflection of the land, and of the people who cast the votes that elect individuals to represent them in national debate. Rural representatives are still attuned to our heritage, while suburban representatives are increasingly antagonistic to it. But the changes in our society are moving numbers between the categories. Next year, our nation will undertake the census, and the numbers will move yet further. And they are not moving in our favor. The effects of this census in re-allocating congressional seats in the redistricting process will be enormous. Fifty seats is a conservative estimate of the number of seats in the House that could be ripped from our margin of pro-gun rural or exurban representatives and handed to urban or suburban representatives who care more about urban grant money than opening day. The rash of municipal lawsuits attacking the gun industry is another symptom of the trend. Lacking the resources, or perhaps the motivation, to reduce crime by rigorously prosecuting criminals, big city mayors have decided to shift the blame to an industry that few of their voters identify with. Some of this is purely pragmatic -- individual criminals are hard to find, and often quite dangerous. The gun industry, on the other hand, is easy to find and easier yet to demonize. Suing a lawful industry is also a guaranteed path to headlines and cameras, and while few urban citizens see any merit to punishing innocent, highly regulated industries, neither do they see any threat. To date, we have been successful in persuading 12 state legislatures and governors that these lawsuits are indeed an enormous threat to our system of jurisprudence, and they have responded by enacting legislation that prohibits such reckless, frivolous lawsuits. But this campaign tracks the underlying problem of politics based in geography -- many of the states to pass such legislation not only did not harbor lawsuits, they barely contain any cities. So this threat will continue, until enough of the lawsuits are dismissed that the litigation craze becomes yet another postscript to history. Or until the craze reaches enough industries and voters to motivate the Congress to pass such legislation on a national level. With a trial lawyer and his wife serving in the White House, this isn`t likely to happen in the next two years. The larger threat is not that the gun industry will be driven into bankruptcy, but that out political dialogue will become bankrupt instead. The demographic changes in society are helping those who wish to drive out dissent, and govern by finger in the wind. Hundreds of polls per day flow through the nation`s capital, and this endless stream of misinformed opinions and biased analyses stains our political debate with what can only be called censorship. Those who dare to disagree with the conventional wisdom of the moment are labeled extremist and out-of-touch, while those who can cite a poll manipulated to provide fifty-percent-plus-one in support of their agenda wave their imaginary mandates like stone tablets handed down from the Mount. The attitude that any citizen who picks up their phone should have a role in deciding national policy threatens to displace our cherished system of government with a pervasive tyranny of the majority. This specter grows even more alarming when the majority consists purely of voters and citizens who have no exposure to our way of life -- a situation that comes closer every day. The implications of this shift go far beyond the difficulty of finding your next great hunting spot or fishing hole. At one point during the recent congressional debate, a Democratic party leader declared that it was time to sacrifice the rural districts in order to better appeal to the swelling hordes of suburban voters. Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and he didn`t mince words when he said "We have written off the rural areas." For me, however, the truly frightening moment came when a high ranking Republican strategist confided that some in their party were entertaining the same thoughts. These attitudes are not particularly sinister or malevolent -- politics is a game of numbers. The vote you saw the House take last Friday was not a repudiation of the societal changes, but a reflection of them -- dozens of anti-gun Democrats voted to sink the gun control package because they would rather have an issue than a bill. They plan to horrify suburban votes with the specter of anonymous youth violence, allegedly perpetrated through sinister "loopholes" that they will blame Republicans for preserving. Everything that`s left of our rights and freedoms have now become "loopholes" in the newspeak of suburban politics, in the callous confidence that few voters in swing districts know any better. Next fall, 30-second attack commercials will blaze through our hometowns, driving poll numbers in wild swings that will threaten to unseat pro-gun representatives. All while you and I are scouting the nearest deer trail. But we are not powerless against this relentless cultural crusade. In fact, as outdoor writers, you are uniquely well-positioned to combat it. Your work -- your writings, photography, and ingrained appreciation for the traditions that are at risk of evaporating -- these are all in the front lines of this battle. Many of you already reach beyond trade publications in your work, and you can all seek out new opportunities to do so. Use your work not only to inform, but to recruit. Share the magnificence of our open spaces with those who may have never been there, and you will have the power to protect our heritage. Consider yourselves ambassadors to the increasing numbers of Americans who have never had the pleasure of being exposed to our traditions and the outdoor way of life. But frankly, many outdoor writers miss this enormous opportunity, by writing largely technical articles that are of great use to accomplished sportsmen but little interest to anyone else. And even more frankly, I think all of us could name a colleague or peer who is more interested in preserving their favorite deer stand than in bringing new people into our fold. Certainly, there are times that all of us are relieved when we arrive at the shooting range to find only a few others. But the range that has few users today may not be there tomorrow. I think it`s important for all of us to recognize that the camaraderie we enjoy as such as big part of the outdoor experience threatens also to isolate us from the very people who can help us, by contributing to exclusionary attitudes against anyone who is not already part of the great heritage we enjoy. So I urge you here today to look beyond our traditional boundaries, and to devote at least a small portion of your work to building our ranks. In all honesty, you are the canaries in this coal mine -- when public acceptance of the outdoor tradition shrinks even further, as the declining numbers of hunters and anglers are sure to do, your work will be the first on the chopping block. We must all work together to explain the relevance of our heritage to new demographics -- by gender and ethnicity. Nationwide, women outnumber men, are more politically active, and are usually the parent who has the greatest opportunity to inculcate children with their value system. In some states, Hispanics will become the majority population within a matter of years, while in others, rural lands will all but disappear within the next decade. We must be responsive to these changes by taking an active role to bring new audiences into our fold. One excellent example of a program to do just that is the "Step Outside" program sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which provides assistance in setting up events designed to bring new people into the shooting sports and the values of conservation. I urge you to find out more about it, and promote it to the facilities that you frequent. Then promote the events as widely as you can. The boldest among you may even decide to sponsor such an event yourself, and NSSF can give you all the materials and assistance that you need. Just give them a ring at their headquarters in Connecticut. The stakes here are enormous. Bill Clinton himself said so before the House vote, when he stated that "the heart and soul of America is on the line." Indeed it is, and I plan to do my part. I hope you will join me. Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today.
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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.