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Speech on the Second Amendment by Senator Larry Craig

Friday, June 16, 2000

On June 6, 2000, Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) gave a passionate speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Below is the text of the speech, in which Senator Craig, an NRA Board Member, defends the Second Amendment, criticizes those who would restrict our rights and gives examples of the benefits of firearms ownership.

Mr. President, I appear on the floor to speak about a provision of the Constitution of our country that has been under nearly constant attack for 8 years. In fact, we heard on the floor this morning two Senators speak about provisions in law that would alter a constitutional right.

The provision I am talking about is part of our Bill of Rights--the first 10 amendments to our Constitution--which protect our most basic rights from being stripped away by an overly zealous government, including rights that all Americans hold dear:

The freedom to worship according to one`s conscience;

The freedom to speak or to write whatever we might think;

The freedom to criticize our Government;

And, the freedom to assemble peacefully.

Among the safeguards of these fundamental rights, we find the Second Amendment. Let me read it clearly:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

I want to repeat that.

The second amendment of our Constitution says very clearly that `A well regulated Militia` is `necessary` for the `security of a free State,` and that `the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.`

What we heard this morning was an effort to infringe upon that right.

Some--even of my colleagues--will read what I have just quoted from our Constitution quite differently. They might read `A well regulated Militia,` and stop there and declare that `the right of the people to keep and bear Arms` actually means that it is a right of our Government to keep and bear arms because they associate the militia with the government. Yet, under this standard, the Bill of Rights would protect only the right of a government to speak, or the right of a government to criticize itself, if you were taking that same argument and transposing it over the first amendment. In fact, the Bill of Rights protects the rights of people from being infringed upon by Government- not the other way around.

Of course, we know that our Founding Fathers in their effort to ratify the Constitution could not convince the citizens to accept it until the Bill of Rights was established to assure the citizenry that we were protecting the citizens from Government instead of government from the citizens.

Others say that the Second Amendment merely protects hunting and sport shooting. They see shooting competitions and hunting for food as the only legitimate uses of guns, and, therefore, conclude that the Second Amendment is no impediment to restricting gun use to those purposes.

You can hear it in the way President Clinton assures hunters that his gun control proposals that will not trample on recreation--though his proposals certainly walk all over their rights.

In fact, the Second Amendment does not merely protect sport shooting and hunting, though it certainly does that.

Nor does the second amendment exist to protect the government`s right to bear arms.

The framers of our Constitution wrote the Second Amendment with a greater purpose.

They made the Second Amendment the law of the land because it has something very particular to say about the rights of every man and every woman, and about the relationship of every man and every woman to his or her Government.

That is: The first right of every human being, the right of self-defense.

Let me repeat that: The first right of every human being is the right of self-defense. Without that right, all other rights are meaningless. The right of self-defense is not something the government bestows upon its citizens. It is an inalienable right, older than the Constitution itself. It existed prior to government and prior to the social contract of our Constitution. It is the right that government did not create and therefore it is a right that under our Constitution the government simply cannot take away. The framers of our Constitution understood this clearly. Therefore, they did not merely acknowledge that the right exists. They denied Congress the power to infringe upon that right.

Under the social contract that is the Constitution of the United States, the American people have told Congress explicitly that we do not have the authority to abolish the American people`s right to defend themselves. Further, the framers said not only does the Congress not have the power to abolish that right, but Congress may not even infringe upon that right. That is what our Constitution says. That is what the Second Amendment clearly lays out. Our Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment to tell us that a free state cannot exist if the people are denied the right or the means to defend themselves.

Let me repeat that because it is so fundamental to our freedom. A free state cannot exist, our free state of the United States collectively, cannot exist without the right of the people to defend themselves. This is the meaning of the Second Amendment. Over the years a lot of our citizens and many politicians have tried to nudge that definition around. But contrary to what the media and the President say, the right to keep and bear arms is as important today as it was 200 years ago.

Every day in this country thousands of peaceful, law-abiding Americans use guns to defend themselves, their families, and their property. Often times, complete strangers are protected by that citizen who steps up and stops the thief or the stalker or the rapist or the murderer from going at that citizen.

According to the FBI, criminals used guns in 1998 380,000 times across America. Yet research indicates that peaceful, law-abiding Americans, using their constitutional right, used a gun to prevent 2.5 million crimes in America that year and nearly every year. In fact, I believe the benefits of protecting the people`s right to keep and bear arms far outweighs the destruction wrought by criminals and firearms accidents. The Centers for Disease Control report 32,000 Americans died from firearm injuries in 1997; under any estimate, that is a tragedy. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control do not keep data on the number of lives that were saved when guns were used in a defensive manner.

Yet if we were to survey the public every year, we would find 400,000 Americans report they used a gun in a way that almost certainly saved either their life or someone else`s. Is that estimate too high? Perhaps. I hope it is, because every time a life is saved from violence, that means that someone was threatening a life with violence. But that number would have to be over 13 times too high for our opponents to be correct when they say that guns are used to kill more often than they are used to protect. What they have been saying here and across America simply isn`t true and the facts bear that out.

We are not debating the tragedy. We are debating facts at this moment. They cannot come up with 2.5 million gun crimes. But clearly, through surveys, we can come up with 2.5 million crimes thwarted every year when someone used a gun in defense of themselves or their property. In many cases, armed citizens not only thwarted crime, but they held the suspect until the authorities arrived and placed that person in custody.

Stories of people defending themselves with guns do not make the nightly news. It just simply isn`t news in America. It isn`t hot. It isn`t exciting. It is American. Sometimes when people act in an American way, it simply isn`t reportable in our country anymore. So the national news media doesn`t follow it.

Yet two of the school shootings that have brought gun issues to the forefront in the last year, in Pearl, MS, and Edinboro, PA, were stopped by peaceful gun owners using their weapons to subdue the killer until the police arrived. How did that get missed in the story? It was mentioned once, in passing, and then ignored as people ran to the floor of the Senate to talk about the tragedy of the killing. Of course the killing was a tragedy, but it was also heroic that someone used their constitutional right to save lives in the process.

A third school shooting in Springfield, OR, was stopped because some parents took time to teach their child the wise use of guns. So when that young man heard a particular sound coming from the gun, he was able to rush the shooter, because he knew that gun had run out of ammunition. He was used to guns. He was around them. He subdued the shooter and saved potentially many other lives. We have recognized him nationally for that heroic act, that young high school student of Springfield, OR.

For some reason, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle never want to tell these stories. They only want to say, after a crisis such as this, `Pass a new gun control law and call 9-1-1.` Yet these stories are essential to our understanding of the right of people to keep and bear arms.

I will share a few of these stories right now. Shawnra Pence, a 29-year-old mother from Sequim, WA, home alone with one of her children, heard an intruder break into the house. She took her .9 mm, took her child to the bedroom, and when the 18-year-old criminal broke into the bedroom, she said, `Get out of my house, I have a gun, get out now.` He left and the police caught him. She saved her life and her child`s life. It made one brief story in the Peninsula Daily news in Sequim, WA.

We have to talk about these stories because it is time America heard the other side of this debate. There are 2.5 million Americans out there defending themselves and their property by the use of their constitutional right.

In Cumberland, TN, a 28-year-old Jason McCulley broke into the home of Stanley Horn and his wife, tied up the couple at knife-point, and demanded to know where the couple kept some cash. While Mrs. Horn was directing the robber, Mr. Horn wriggled free from his restraints, retrieved his handgun, shot the intruder, and then called the police. The intruder, Jason McCulley, subsequently died. If some Senators on the other side of the aisle had their way, perhaps the Horns would have been killed and Jason McCulley would have walked away.

Earlier today, we heard the Senator from Illinois and the Senator from California read the names people killed by guns in America. Some day they may read the name Jason McCulley. I doubt they will tell you how he died, however, because it doesn`t advance their goal of destroying the Second Amendment. But As Paul Harvey might say: Now you know the rest of the story.

Every 13 seconds this story is repeated across America. Every 13 seconds in America someone uses a gun to stop a crime. Why do our opponents never tell these stories? Why do the enemies of the right to keep and bear arms ignore this reality that is relived by 2.5 million Americans every year? Why is it that all we hear from them is, `Pass a new gun control law, and, by the way, call 9 1-1.`

I encourage all listening today, if you have heard of someone using their Second Amendment rights to prevent a crime, to save a life, to protect another life, then send us your story. There are people here who desperately need to hear this in Washington, right here on Capitol Hill. This is a story that should be played out every day in the press but isn`t.

So let`s play it out, right here on the floor of the Senate. Send me those stories from your local newspapers about that law-abiding citizen who used his constitutional right of self-defense. Send that story to me, Senator Larry Craig, Washington, DC, 20510, or send it to your own Senator. Let him or her know the rest of the story of America`s constitutional rights.

Having said all of this, let there be no mistake. Guns are not for everyone. We restrict children`s access to guns and we restrict criminals` access to guns, but we must not tolerate politicians who tell us that the Second Amendment only protects the right to hunt. We must not tolerate politicians who infringe upon our right to defend ourselves from thieves and stalkers and rapists and murderers. And we must not tolerate the politician who simply says: `Pass another gun control law and call 9-1-1.`

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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.