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A Call To Arms: Renewing America By J.C. Watts

Tuesday, June 20, 2000

On May 20, 2000, Representative J.C. Watts gave the keynote address at the NRA Annual Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. He voiced his unyielding support for the Second Amendment and spoke passionately about the real causes and solutions to violence in America.

It`s very good to be back with my friends from the NRA. I`m sure there are a few Second Amendment Sisters here as well. Good work, ladies.

I`ve said it publicly many times, and will say it once again: I am the NRA. I am proud of the principles you are fighting for.

As is true of each of you, I make it a habit of citizenship to honor the entire Bill of Rights, not just the Amendments that happen to suit me. And let me restate once again that I stand completely and forever opposed to allowing the criminal element to destroy our liberties.

These liberties, ensured by our Bill Of Rights, were properly recognized by our Founders as divine in origin, transcendent in nature, and beyond the political manipulations of beings even so powerful as talk show hostesses.

My hope tonight is to talk about what I believe lies at the heart of our national violence problem, especially among our young people, and I also want to say a few words about the political debate raging over the issue of gun control. A debate that too often gets mired in superficial, simplistic arguments.

But first, I want to address the cultural issues. In a word, I believe our problem stems from a bizarre mentality that breeds anger, hopelessness, despair, and sometimes murder.

It is a bizarre mentality, but it is not an alien one. Quite the contrary. It is omnipresent and has, for many young people, replaced the mentality on which this nation was founded - a mentality that honored transcendent truth, personal responsibility, and duty to others.

American democracy was created for self-governing individuals - people who did the right thing whether or not anyone else was watching. It was created for people who honored the golden rule not because it was a rule, but because they understood that it truly was golden.

That mentality is under attack, and let me state my belief very plainly: If we lose our ability to teach our children individual self-restraint, public order can only be maintained by outside forces. In Washington last Sunday, we saw scores of thousands of Americans cry out for more laws. What they were really asking is for the government to protect us from ourselves.

That mass demonstration held a very clear warning. There are many, many Americans who are eager to exchange their constitutional liberties for additional security. And that, my friends, represents a crisis in confidence in the American experiment.

I now want to talk about what I believe are the most important contributors to the bizarre mentality that affects so many of our children, a mentality that is robbing them of the ability to develop into self-governing individuals.

Let me be blunt. The first step we can take toward restoring our nation is for each of us to recognize that we, as individual citizens, have all too often drifted with the cultural tide that has brought us to this unhappy place.

We have not, for example, reached out to the many lonely and direction-less kids in our communities, or even to our own kids.

We have left the television on in order to entertain and babysit our children.

We have succumbed to the easy role of trumpeting our beliefs at the expense of listening to others.

We have fallen for the sound bite mentality, which is a poor substitute for personal reflection and responsible action.

And as a nation, we have refused to accept the fact that we are now reaping what almost every one of us has sown.

Make no mistake.

We should not be surprised that some of our children are killing each other in our schools and on our streets.

We should not be shocked that many of our children have no sense of purpose, and feel hopeless and empty even in this era of unprecedented plenty.

We should not be surprised that, in the absence of the faith of our fathers, our children have adopted bizarre creeds, beliefs, and practices.

We truly are reaping what we have sown. And it is a very bitter harvest. We have all played a role in getting us here, and we all have a role to play in taking us home.

Let`s look a bit more closely at how, we as a society, have created this bizarre mentality that affects so many of our children.

First of all, we have cut children free from parental authority. When I was growing up, when a parent said they were going to cut a switch, you suddenly knew the meaning of the expression "hell to pay." Nowadays, a kid responds by threatening to dial 911. Parental rights have been seriously eroded in many other areas, including how their children are schooled.

Parental authority has also been undermined by easy divorce and by public policies that have made fathers as rare as Steinway grand pianos in many inner city homes. As David Kopel pointed out in a recent essay, the biggest indicator of violence among young people is fatherlessness - no male influence.

Yet, interestingly enough, those gun-control marchers did not spend much time talking about those missing fathers. I don`t want to rain on that parade, but it is surely ironic that those well-intentioned people came to Washington to pass laws that criminals will not honor - and were led by members of an entertainment industry that not only glorifies violence but which has promoted the sexual license and glorification of bizarre behavior which produces so many of our young violent criminals.

There is a frightful number of children growing up with very little parental discipline and guidance, which is crucial for helping them develop self-control and for feeling that they are loved and cared for.

No wonder so many look for love in all the wrong places. Those are often the only places left.

Our children have also been forced to live in a relentlessly secular culture. They have been robbed of much of their religious heritage by the complete banning of religion from public life, especially in our schools.

Don`t think for a second that our kids haven`t gotten the message. They can discuss almost anything in school except "Thou shalt not kill" and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Discussing the abiding truths of our Judeo/Christian faith makes the adults very, very testy - sometimes to the point of legal action. And that sends a very clear message to kids: Religion is either somehow bad or, at the very best, irrelevant to their lives.

Of course, I have something of a personal passion about this subject. As most of you know, I am an ordained minister. I believe that when these transcendent truths are driven from the scene, negative results will soon follow. I believe our contemporary history very much supports my assumption.

In fact, I feel very confident in saying that it is no coincidence that a society which undermines parental authority, which marginalizes religion, and which steeps its children in a violent and sexually obsessed popular culture produces children who are unruly, undisciplined, nihilistic, and in some cases infatuated with murder and quite prepared to act on these infatuations.

I am not saying that all our kids are bad. Far from it. For every bad kid who gets his picture on the cover of a national magazine, there are millions more trying to make their way in this world in a decent and positive way. They are working in school, and they are getting up in the morning wondering what they can do to make mom and dad proud of them.

But it only takes a relative few to cause an immense amount of damage.

It is also very clear kids aren`t the only ones affected and infected by this bizarre mentality.

If any of you watched the gun-control march on television - I`m figuring not many of you were there in person - you might have seen a sign which said this: "Please protect us from guns." This sign told me that this protester has so misread the problem that she blames inanimate objects for crimes that originate in the human heart.

My view is vastly different, and was stated very well in a recent essay in National Review magazine. The writer of that essay made the point this way: Blaming guns for horrors such as Columbine is no different than blaming the chains for slavery. The problem isn`t the guns. The problem is what is in the hearts and minds of the very small minority that decides to kill.

America has always been awash in guns. Why are more people, and especially young people, using them? I have mentioned weakened parental authority, easy divorce, and well-intentioned but harmful public welfare policies.

I am also fully convinced that our extremely liberal abortion laws have undermined the traditional bedrock view that innocent life is sacred.

Those of us born before Roe v Wade forget that every child born since 1973 knows that he or she could have been exterminated in his mother`s womb with society`s blessing. In other words, every American child knows that society considered him or her completely expendable. Anyone who believes that this does not cast life in a different light is, in my opinion, denying reality.

In fact, if there is one cause that brings more celebrities to the Mall than gun control, it is abortion.

Which finally brings me to our entertainment industry. Let me be very clear. Our entertainment industry creates many wonderful works. Some are nothing short of astounding. My kids and I watch Beauty and the Beast over and over.

But this industry also bombards our children with epics of blood, sex, and nihilism. Some are overt, such as Oliver Stone`s Natural Born Killers. Others are much more subtle.

And there is no doubt in my mind that children are getting the message.

I don`t know how many of you have looked at the police report on the Columbine massacre, but it points out that the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were very deeply affected by the movie Natural Born Killers. Klebold, for example, wrote an entry in Harris`s yearbook that said, quote, "the holy April morning of NBK" endquote. NBK of course stands for "Natural Born Killers." Harris wrote something very similar in Klebold`s yearbook. Again, I quote: "God I can`t wait till they die. I can taste the blood now - NBK"

Let me give you two more quotes. One is from a school notebook, and is thought to have been written a day before the attack. Here`s what it said, quote: "About 26.5 hours from now the judgment will begin. Difficult but not impossible, necessary, nerve-wracking and fun. What fun is life without a little death? It`s interesting, when I`m in my human form, knowing I`m going to die. Everything has a touch of triviality to it."

Here is the other, quote: "My wrath for January`s incident will be godlike" end-quote.

Let me make a couple of points. You will note, for one thing, that the killers had filled their spiritual vacuum by making a religion out of violence. Their high priest seems to have been Oliver Stone.

I am not guessing here. We have the killers` word for it.

Yet the entertainment industry will not accept any degree of responsibility.

Now folks, this is an astounding position. What Hollywood is telling us is that children are not affected by what they read, see, and hear. This is obviously wrong and any parent who has to buy Pokemon cards, Beanie babies, Nike shoes or Cookie Crisps knows better.

Can we link the Columbine slaughter to the entertainment industry? Clearly, we can. If a person is caught painting swastikas on a synagogue, and then a subsequent search of his room discovers Nazi literature, don`t we assume a link? Of course we do.

Similarly, if a person attacks a citizen of a different race, and a subsequent search of his home finds racist literature, don`t we assume there is a link? We would be incredibly foolish not to.

Now, let`s look more closely at Columbine.

According to the police report, Klebold and Harris hoped to kill hundreds of classmates by detonating bombs in the school cafeteria. Those bombs were in fact planted, but they did not go off, and I`m thankful to the good Lord for that, because the police report says 480 students could have been killed if the bombs did detonate.

We can only imagine the horror. As Timothy McVeigh showed us, bombs can do a great deal more damage that guns in a much shorter time.

Interestingly enough, I don`t recall hearing anyone blame the Ryder truck, the fertilizer and ammonia that McVeigh used to build his bomb for that horrific crime. Quite the contrary. The president blamed anti-government rhetoric and talk radio. Not many people, at least on the gun-control side, disagreed. They were admitting that people can be inspired to violence by their cultural experiences. 

After the Columbine killings, police searched the killers` homes. What did they find?

They discovered hate literature, violent video games, and writings by the killers showing a deep affection for the work of Oliver Stone.

But who has gotten the lion`s share of blame for this horror?

The man most to blame, we have been instructed, is Charlton Heston.

Of course, the entertainment industry knows that people are affected by what they read, see, and hear. Hollywood makes a great deal of money by merely placing certain products within camera range, knowing that some viewers will be influenced by this most passive sort of advertising.

More to our point, producers and actors are quick to take credit for sensitizing audiences to the causes dear to their hearts, many of which are quite noble. I truly believe, for example, that the entertainment industry played a positive role in improving race relations in our country.

And the time has come for some in Hollywood to admit that while it can inspire people to do good, it can also inspire people to do evil. And if it continues to create these films, it should pay a price.

Am I suggesting censorship?

Not at all! Those of us gathered here tonight understand that our freedoms are indivisible. Some folks believe they can whittle away Amendment 2 without threatening Amendment 1, but they are wrong. If Hollywood`s First Amendment rights can be taken away, so can your Second Amendment rights.

What we can do, however, is expose and denounce those who pump rot into our society. We must call them what they are. They are cultural polluters. They are playing a central role in the corrosion of our children`s character, and they should no longer get a free ride.

And excuse me for a few moments while I put on my Republican hat and say a few words about the political debate going on today.

It`s an election year and the rhetoric is getting pretty hot. The Vice President and many of his Democrat colleagues on Capitol Hill are weighing in. But, in the whirlwind of their overblown rhetoric and partisan politics, they are no where close to the root causes of these problems we are confronted with.

In fact, gun control consistently finishes at or near the bottom of the list of solutions to youth violence. Eighty-four percent of those polled believe that greater involvement by parents in the lives of their children would have the greatest impact on reducing gun violence in our schools.

Over the last thirty years, we have slowly become a culture that says the only thing right is to get by, the only thing wrong is to get caught; if it feels good, do it; if you don`t want to do it, don`t; if you don`t like it anymore, divorce it; if it`s inconvenient, abort it; and, if you can`t handle it, drink it or drug it.

And yet, it is this same culture where our children spend more time watching television and playing video games before they are 8 years old than they will spend with their parents their entire lifetime.

Just like you, I believe in sensible gun safety laws, but not in an attempt to impose morality from without as a substitute for parental instruction, which instills morality from within.

I wish I could believe that proposing more gun control measure would or could do more to protect our children. But, time and time again, even newly proposed gun legislation would not have kept these acts of violence from happening.

Numerous current gun laws were broken at Columbine and many other well-known shootings. Yet, we ask ourselves: would another gun law truly have made a difference?

Washington, D.C. has some of the most restrictive gun laws in America, but none of them were able to keep a recent shooting from occurring among local teens at the National Zoo. Yet, Vice President Al Gore took the opportunity to call, once again, for handgun safety trigger locks.

Many were quick to point out the obvious, that a disturbed kid breaking the law would NOT have had a safety lock in the first place.

It`s gotten to where anytime the Vice President is informed of a shooting, he calls for child-safety trigger locks, even if children were not involved in the shooting.

His motives are to instill fear in Americans as he talks about "illegal guns flooded our communities" and yet wants to require licenses for all law-abiding gun owners. Yet, just ten years ago, Al Gore was voting against these types of gun control.

Vice President Al Gore is the type of politician where nothing is sacred, that will say and do anything to preserve their own political future, even if that means using fear and deceptive means.

His party used to say, "there`s nothing to fear but fear itself." Now the Vice President has nothing to offer but fear itself.

Friends, it is up to us to put America back on the right track of preserving the Constitution and away from the cultural decay we are currently in.

First, we must work toward stronger enforcement of our current gun laws. Our current Administration has a dismal record of gun enforcement and has shown little in way of making it a priority.

Under the Gun-Free School Zones Act, for example, the 6,000 students caught at school with a weapon in the past two years could have all been prosecuted. How many did the administration actually prosecute? Just 13.

There are some ideas that we must pursue legislatively if we are to reverse the direction toward cultural renewal. We must work to return control of our schools to parents and communities, helping parents make the right decisions about what`s best for their children`s education, and provide for the inclusion of faith-based schools.

Secondly, we must provide for real pro-family tax relief and letting families keep more of their own money. It is wrong for both parents to have to work, spending less time with their children, purely to pay the family`s tax bill.

Also, I believe we must do more to help parents and educators find the help for those kids who exhibit the early warning signs of violence and self-destruction.

This current cultural decay has taken decades to form and changes today may not be realized for years to come. But we must for the sake of our children and for our children`s children, move our culture closer to one that prizes strong families, promotes positive cultural influences on our children, and reaffirms the inclusion of faith-based organizations.

And lastly, we must send a clear message to Al Gore and all politicians that they do not hold all of the answers to solving all of the problems within our society. We must tell them to stop looking for the `quick fix,` and pointing their finger at the easy target.

We must reject `made-for-television` legislation sold to us by politicians, promising to keep these tragedies from happening again, but are only truly concerned about furthering their own political future.

And we should call on the entertainment industry, many of whom protest guns by day and promote gun violence by night, to take more responsibility to promote gun safety instead of the bizarre, warped, and ultimately irresponsible gun use they promote in TV, video games and movies.

In these final few moments let me return to my earlier theme. Yes, it is necessary to identify the contributing factors to the bizarre mentality that has hurt our children. But the first step on the long journey toward restoration must take place in our own hearts and homes.

Nobody should expect Washington, or Hollywood, to say No More until they say No More in their own homes.

Let me ask a personal question. How many of you fear future Columbines? You don`t have to raise your hands, but I think it`s safe to say we all fear the possibility. Now, let me ask another question: Why do you fear that such a horror may be repeated?

I believe that all Americans, if they are honest with themselves, do not fear future Columbines because there are too many guns in America - or, for that matter, because there are too many propane tanks from backyard barbecues, which is what Klebold and Harris used to make their bombs.

I think the reason this fear nags at us as a nation is because we know our own children and our neighbor`s children have been raised in the same culture that produced these two young men.

We may even wonder if our own children are capable of perpetuating such horror.

And while the focus is rightly placed on children, we must never forget that we, as adults, have created the world our children are being raised in.

It is not our children who make the movies, video games, and television shows.

It is not our children who have driven God from the schools.

And our children are not responsible for the moral free-fall in our public and political institutions. We are. You think our kids aren`t getting the message?

I have said before: I am a man of faith, and a man of hope. I believe we know the way back. And I am convinced that our journey begins in our own hearts and homes.

But I am convinced that if we do not take those steps, and the others that naturally follow, then the people who are all willing to exchange their liberty for security will win the day. And to be quite frank, they will deserve to. We must run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

And so, my friends, we find ourselves together with a long, hard journey ahead. There is nothing less at stake than the American experiment in ordered liberty, and the lives of our children.

But I am convinced that we can prevail. If we do our best, our best will suffice. The strength of America is not our guns or Hollywood or government - the strength of America is our people - you, me, us, other Americans, our hopes, dreams ambitions, our ideas and most important our goodness.

Thank you, and God bless each of you.

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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.