One year ago, at our last gathering, I warned that we stood at a crossroads.
After eight years of Bill Clinton, it was not at all clear that our right to keep and bear arms could survive four years of continued relentless attacks on our rights by Al Gore.
I was not exaggerating when I said that the 2000 election would determine whether we marched into the 21st century with new hope for our second amendment rights -- or whether lawful gun ownership in America would slowly but surely be fading to just a faint memory.
Today, I am proud to say that thanks to you, our rights remain secure.
When Al Gore finally conceded the election, he said he would go back to Tennessee to mend fences with his home-state voters -- the same voters that showed up by the thousands at our rallies in Tennessee the week before Election Day, with our president Charlton Heston -- the same voters who went on to deny Al Gore the White House.
Gore promptly took a job in New York City, which is a long way from Tennessee -- as a professor to the next generation of anti-gun media.
I guess the real Al Gore has finally stood up.
But what`s more important is that we made sure he never got a chance to sit down behind that desk in the Oval Office.
Ladies and gentlemen, for this achievement you deserve a hand
... Thanks to you, we have a President who as governor of Texas signed a law allowing responsible, honest citizens to carry a gun for self protection. Thanks to you, we have a President who is on record in favor of legislation to prohibit frivolous lawsuits designed to bankrupt responsible gun makers.
Thanks to you, we now have a President, and a Vice President, in the White House who respect our rights as gun owners, and who honor the constitution that guarantees those rights. Each and every one of you should be very proud of what you accomplished this past November.
More than any other group of Americans, you the men and women of the NRA turned the tide in favor of liberty and reshaped the political climate.
Don`t take my word for it. Let me read you some testimonials, and see if you can guess their source.
The first was delivered during an interview on CBS News.
And I quote, "I don`t think there`s any doubt that in at least five states I can think of, the NRA had a decisive influence .... You`ve got to give it to them. They`ve done a good job. They`ve probably had more to do ... with the fact that Democrats didn`t win the House this time. And they hurt Al Gore," end quote.
Now keep that quote in mind, while I read you another analysis that also credits our organization and you, the members, for making the difference in 2000.
And once again I quote, "Exit polling showed that a stunning 48-percent of those who had voted nationwide had guns in their homes, and they voted in force for Bush," end quote.
Finally, see if you can guess what publication printed this tribute to the voting power of gun owners.
Quote, "Guns played a key role in Gore`s loss of Arkansas, Tennessee, and West Virginia, any one of which could have delivered him the Presidency," end quote.
These are ringing endorsements, but they are not the words of our supporters. In fact, one was lifted from the Newsweek Magazine, and the other came from the pages of USA Today.
And what about that first quote? -- the one that credits the NRA with denying Democrats a majority in the house, and with sending Al Gore back home to ... New York City? It was delivered by none other than William Jefferson Clinton himself.
It must have been a genuinely unguarded moment, because it`s one of the few true things he`s ever said.
No one will ever accuse the national media of being on our side, but they can recognize a tidal wave when they`re hit by one.
Let no one be mistaken. The rejection of anti-gun candidates in 2000 is still reverberating. You hear it in the words of dozens of Democratic congressmen, who have stood up to tell their leadership to get off the gun control bandwagon. They too have seen this map , the map of counties that voted for Bush in red, in vast strokes of color that run from coast to coast, while the counties that voted for Gore are isolated pockets of blue.
Even the city folks can read this map. We see the wave in the state legislatures. This year, we added Michigan and New Mexico to the list of states with Right to Carry -- now a total of 33.
We have added two states, to those that have protected shooting ranges from nuisance complaints and closures. Next week we hope to add your neighbor Kansas, for a total of 42 states.
And more states than I can recite are working to expand hunting opportunities -- while hundreds upon hundreds of anti-gun bills are going down to defeat.
More state legislatures are moving to shut down the outrageous lawsuits that have been launched by big-city mayors, to bankrupt the firearm industry. These lawsuits are a cancer upon our constitution. They are designed to extort the same twisted gun control schemes that the people`s elected representatives would never entertain. They seek to circumvent the will of the people, and if they are left unchecked, they threaten not just gun manufacturers, but our entire system of free enterprise.
I am proud to report that more than half the states -- a total of 26 -- have now passed statutes to prohibit these reckless lawsuits. Thanks to our new President and his new attorney general John Ashcroft, the federal government is out of the gun lawsuit business. Just last week, the president announced his crime plan -- instead of chasing gun makers into court, this administration is going to chase violent criminals.
In John Ashcroft, we have an attorney general who agrees with us. In fact, this letter dated May 17, and delivered here to me yesterday, says it better than I could. And I quote:
[L]et me state unequivocally my view that the text and the original intent of the Second Amendment clearly protect the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms.
While some have argued that the Second Amendment guarantees only a "collective" right of the States to maintain militias, I believe the Amendment`s plain meaning and original intent prove otherwise. Like the First and Fourth Amendments, the Second Amendment protects the rights of "the people," which the Supreme Court has noted is a term of art that should be interpreted consistently throughout the Bill of Rights.
Attorney General Ashcroft has also vowed to put the "instant" back in instant check and run the system as Congress intended so that only criminals, not honest citizens, are denied guns. A top-to-bottom review of the National Instant Check System is underway right now.
Does everyone remember the day that Clinton`s Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo stood up and proudly announced his most important accomplishment, the so-called "settlement" with Smith & Wesson? Now Cuomo too has gone back to New York City.
New Housing Secretary Mel Martinez has shut down the extortion racket of so-called "purchase preferences" that Cuomo sought to establish -- and the agreement between HUD and Smith & Wesson has been declared a dead letter. And now that S&W was purchased from its British holding company last week, we can also hope to restore its future.
There must be no more so-called settlement deals to purchase a courtroom truce by selling off our rights in bits and pieces.
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow gun owners, fellow officers and members of the National Rifle Association, it is indeed a new and better day.
You can justly be proud of what you have helped achieve. You came together in your own communities to speak with one voice, reflecting your shared values and beliefs. You spread the color red across the map, and pushed back the campaign to destroy our culture.
I wish I could tell you that we could simply declare victory and move on; that the enemies of our freedoms will lick their wounds, slink away, and never return. But you, of all people, know better.
You know that winning the election is a beginning, not an end.
The never-ending tendency of government to aggregate more power and control over our lives remains -- as do the thousands of bureaucrats who were the line workers of the Clinton/Gore gun control machine. We are just getting started on reversing eight years of sweeping attacks on our rights -- and it is simply the nature of government that what has been done, is ten times harder to undo.
"Gun control" has been replaced by "gun safety" as the new mantra of deception. Handgun Control, Inc. is preparing to change its name, and while the word "control" is gone from the title, it will remain a centerpiece of their agenda.
We see more of the deception in a new group that calls itself Americans for Gun Safety. It is funded by a dot-com billionaire from ... New York City, Andrew McKelvey, who is a former board member of HCI. In truth, the group has zero Americans as members, and it has nothing to do with gun safety. It has an agenda of licensing, registration, and lawsuits ... but it calls itself moderate and centrist. It is hiding ... in plain sight.
Our enemies are in state capitals around the country. They are moving to establish back-door registration through so-called ballistic fingerprinting. They are saying we can`t be trusted when they push for laws to lock our guns away. They are moving to subject every firearms transaction -- including friend-to-friend and father-to-son -- to federal surveillance.
Their goal is nothing less than to ban gun shows altogether, under the crafty camouflage of eliminating a so-called gun-show "loophole". You and I know that subjecting two-day gun shows to a five-day waiting period is not "closing a loophole." It is simply one more attempt to prune away the right of decent, law-abiding citizens to engage in a constitutionally protected, legal activity, while further isolating gun owners and denigrating our traditions and culture. Why have gun shows come to be the focus of their attacks?
Think back to the map, and then look around.
You`re at a gun show right now -- although this one has more show than guns. I prefer the kind with more guns, myself.
Here you sit with the people who share your beliefs and values -- the people who live in the red part of the map, and want nothing more than to be left alone to live our lives the way we choose.
When we gather here, whether to engage in political discourse or simply to look at the latest products, we are tearing down the boundaries that others would build to isolate us from each other, to make us feel somehow weird or abnormal for valuing and exercising our rights.
When we gather here, or anywhere, we strengthen the future of our culture, and we protect our way of life.
For now, we will remain under attack.
In Washington, we are saddled with a fifty-fifty Senate. Several times already this year, the Senate has geared up for Second Amendment battle -- but we have thus far postponed the inevitable. Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain have teamed up to push a so-called "compromise" gun show bill, but their legislation is a house of cards built on half-truths and new restrictions on our rights. Nonetheless, the Senate may well pass it, or even the much-more restrictive language of the original Lautenberg amendment.
On the Senate floor, there are effectively no rules to contain the likes of Charlie Schumer or Hillary Clinton -- who are both, now that I think of it, from New York City. This Senate has already shown itself willing to wage war on the first amendment, with its recent passage of so-called campaign finance reform. This bill is the most direct assault on our first amendment rights since the alien and sedition acts, railroaded through the Senate under the guise of protecting our democracy.
From what? Well-informed voters?
In truth, the bill does far more to protect incumbents from challengers, and to protect the news media`s stranglehold on commentary from competition.
Think back to the map.
This bill will give a monopoly to the media cartels who broadcast from the pockets of blue, to tell those of us in the red all we need to know about politics.
Ladies and gentlemen, if and when that day arrives, it will be time to put your TV set out to pasture and go back to getting your news from over the back fence -- or the front porch, or the coffee shop -- or yes, even at the gun show.
This is a battle that never ends. The price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance, and we must turn our eyes to the threats and challenges that lie ahead.
We are well positioned and well-equipped -- but we must never lose sight of the distinction between tools and tactics, versus strength and strategy.
All of the postcards, petitions, mailing labels and internet sites are merely tools. They come and go with the passing fancy of the day.
Our strength is in this room, and among the millions more who could not join us here today -- and our strategy must be to remain undivided. It is our sheer number, and our unyielding resolve, that have now been measured by the pundits of Fortune magazine as first among many.
The NRA is ranked number one -- the foremost voice of advocacy in our nation`s capital. And the credit goes to each and every one of you.
Here we sit, in what is just about dead center of the color red on the map. Bill and Hillary and Cuomo and Gore have fled back to the blue -- back to New York City.
It is our job to keep them there and Wayne, if you ever do build that NRA sports restaurant in New York City, don`t drink the water, there must be something in it.
Now we must extend our reach.
Convince fellow gun owners who are not members of this organization to join our ranks. Contribute as generously as you can to our legislative programs and our voter education work. Speak out on behalf of your rights, by contacting your own state and federal officeholders. And when you see your rights under attack in the media, write to your newspaper and call your local TV station.
2002 is just around the corner, and our opponents are already hard at work. If we are to emerge victorious again, we must redouble our efforts for the next election. As historic as our victory was in 2000, we have absolutely no margin for complacency.
The Senate is our battleground, and the next election will expose more of our Senate supporters to risk than our opponents. I am confident that we can emerge from 2002 with a majority of the Senate in our corner -- IF all of us do everything we can between now and the next election.
If 2002 poses new threats, it also offers new opportunities to build on the triumphs of 2000, and continue our march into this new millennium more free, with our rights, our liberties, and our traditions stronger and more secure than ever before.
The future is in your hands -- the honest, hard-working members of the National Rifle Association.