One year ago when last we gathered, we had a tremendous victory to celebrate. After weeks of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court had finally made official the victory of President George W. Bush. Today, I am proud to report that thanks to you, our rights remain secure and Al Gore is just a bad memory.
Each and every one of you should be very proud of what you accomplished that year. 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.
Everyone remembers the courtroom battles but we must never forget -- Florida was only in play because we deprived Al Gore of the traditionally Democratic stronghold states of Arkansas, West Virginia, and even his home state of Tennessee.
I was proud to travel those states in the closing days of the campaign with my friend and colleague Wayne LaPierre and our legendary president, whom I am also proud to call my friend, Mr. Charlton Heston. In the crowds of thousands who packed those rallies to capacity and beyond, we could feel the electricity and smell the sweet scent of victory to come. We will never forget that victory and we must ensure that our nation`s elected representatives don`t forget it either.
No other group could have done what we did together in the election of 2000 -- and now, it`s time to finish the job. Make no mistake, our rewards have already been rich.
Even in the earliest days of the Bush Administration, federal agencies were proudly stating their departure from the gun control business. The Department of Housing and Urban Development tossed aside Andrew Cuomo`s agenda of threatening nonsensical, baseless lawsuits against the firearm industry. And they renounced the campaign of outright extortion that led to the infamous so-called settlement with the then-British owners of Smith and Wesson.
Now Cuomo is gone, the settlement is history, and the Brits are gone too, returning ownership of that legendary gunmaker to our shores.
Not long after that, the Department of State told the global gun-ban crowd at the United Nations -- in no uncertain terms -- that our Second Amendment rights were off-limits. A cry of worldwide outrage went up from the silk-stocking set in the U.N. meeting rooms and this Administration responded by asking them what part of NO they didn`t understand.
Throughout this Administration, the directions from the White House have been clear -- turn the Clinton/Gore agenda on its head.
Early in his term, the president announced his crime plan.
Instead of chasing gun makers into court, this administration is going to chase violent criminals into prison. Attorney General Ashcroft has 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 access to firearms. We welcome his move to take "Project Exile" nationwide.
It is a move long advocated by this organization, and one long stymied by the same groups who endorse every technicality under the sun to shelter criminals from justice even while they attempt to deny the most fundamental constitutional protections to honest citizens.
Turning around eight years of relentless assaults has not been easy work, especially when much of the government is still run by the holdovers who were the line workers of the Clinton-Gore anti-gun machine.
But even the most stubborn of bureaucrats understood their new orders when Attorney General Ashcroft announced a new official Department of Justice policy that the Second Amendment says what it means and means what it says -- that we have an individual, personal right to keep and bear arms, that shall not be infringed.
Our rewards are not just in our nation`s capital. We see the fruits of our hard work in the state legislatures.
This year, we added New Mexico to the states that have protected shooting ranges from nuisance complaints and closures --now a total of 43 states.
And more states than I can recite are expanding hunting opportunities while hundreds upon hundreds of anti-gun bills are going down to defeat.
Now, there are only six states remaining that completely deny their citizens the right to carry a firearm for self-protection. We are still working for right-to-carry this year in Ohio and Colorado -- and we will not rest until that number is zero.
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. I am proud to report that we have just added the state of Kansas to the ledger, for a total of 28 states that have permanently blocked those foolish, baseless courtroom attacks on our rights.
And back in Washington, less than two weeks ago, a national bill to block these lawsuits advanced through a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it has more than half of House members as cosponsors.
But let me be painfully candid with you.
Despite the valiant efforts of Senators like Larry Craig, Zell Miller, and John Ensign, this bill will not be able to pass the U.S. Senate this year, certainly not without being loaded down with amendments that assault our rights.
For the Senate is the hole in our armor, and the target of our adversaries, who have renewed their desperate attacks on our freedom. And their tactics are plainly shameful.
Because on a day, September 11th, when Americans needed to rise to our greatest, our adversaries revealed their worst.
They waited not even a day before huddling behind closed doors to cloak their longstanding agenda in the false guise of fighting terrorism.
Even as I stand here today, radio ads are on the air, targeting pro-gun lawmakers with lies and innuendo, saying that somehow, we will only be safe when we have surrendered our freedom.
Honest American citizens know better, of course.
When ordinary citizens saw for themselves the ferocity of modern-day terrorism, they lined up three and four deep at gun store counters to reach for America`s original homeland security -- the Second Amendment.
But ordinary citizens don`t run the U.S. Senate. And the mentality that all too many members of the Senate have is this-- don`t just sit there, ban something. This mentality has already inflicted casualties upon our rights this year.
This Senate has waged war on the First Amendment, with its recent passage of so-called campaign finance reform. At the very moment most Americans are actually tuning back in to the democratic process, the law so deceptively named the Campaign Reform Act would make it illegal to communicate with voters about the very issues under consideration in Congress.
But these restrictions on political speech were railroaded through Congress under the guise of protecting our democracy. From what? Well-informed voters?
In truth, the bill does far more to protect incumbent politicians from challengers, and to protect the media`s stranglehold on commentary from competition. The bill gives a free pass to the media conglomerates while silencing the voices of citizens and the groups they join to represent their interests.
And don`t forget that these are the same media conglomerates who put their First Amendment rights on a pedestal, but treat the Second Amendment like toilet paper. A mere hour after this bill became law, I was proud to join Wayne LaPierre on the steps of the federal courthouse in the nation`s capital.
The minute that courtroom opened for business, your NRA was the first plaintiff to file suit.
The self-appointed social engineers at Common Cause said it best, and I quote: "A vote for campaign finance reform is a vote for gun control."
The Senate remains our battleground. Despicable lies are the tools of our opponents, and their target is the American tradition of gun shows. Their real objective is nothing less than to ban gun shows altogether, under the 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 strip away the rights 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?
Just look around this room.
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 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 heritage and we protect our way of life. We will not run from these attacks, so we must now finish the job.
There are two kinds of people in politics -- participants, and victims.
There are plenty of people who want us, our way of life, and our Second Amendment rights to be victims. But there are far more of us and we are only vulnerable when we don`t fight back.
To win the battles of 2002 and recapture a pro-gun majority in both chambers of Congress, 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 to tell them they`re wrong.
This is a battle that never ends, and the price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance. 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.
The postcards, petitions, mailing labels and internet sites are important tools.
But 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. We are ranked number one ... the foremost voice of advocacy in our nation`s capital.
And the credit goes to each and every one of you. You know that winning the election is a beginning, not an end.
The implacable tendency of government to aggregate more power and control over our lives remains.
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 even though the battle lines may shift, our call to duty will remain.
None of us in this room will see a day when our rights are not under attack in some quarter.
The battle will outlast each and every one of us, and while we may have to pass the torch to others when we can no longer man the front lines, our enduring legacy of freedom is history`s measure of our contribution.
If 2002 poses new threats, it also offers new hope -- hope that we can 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.
I know that with your help, and your vote, we will get the job done.