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Remarks by U.S. Senator Zell Miller at 2002 NRA Annual Meeting

Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Thank you very much for your warm welcome. And thank you, Wayne and Jim, for inviting me to be here tonight. Both of you made strong and thought provoking speeches this morning, and I was proud to be there to hear them. It`s been a while since you`ve had a Democrat as your keynote speaker, and I was honored to accept your invitation.

Yesterday afternoon, the folks over at Handgun Control, Incorporated issued a press release criticizing me for being here tonight. They accused me of "courting" the NRA, saying you didn`t represent mainstream America.

Well, I haven`t courted anybody since my wife, Shirley, said, "Yes" ... 48 years ago.

But I look around this room, and all I see is mainstream America!

I see a room full of patriots who love their country and all it stands for. And there is nowhere I`d rather be tonight than right here with you, on the picket line of freedom`s defense!

And as a life-long country music fan, to be the opening act for Vince Gill is a dream come true. I want his song, "Go Rest High on that Mountain" played at my funeral.

I`m pleased you mentioned that sharpshooting cousin of mine and I`m proud he could come out here with me.

A 40-year Life Member of the NRA ... Eric England, would you please stand? And my Senate colleague, Larry Craig of Idaho, is here also. We are the sponsors of the Lawful Commerce of Firearms Act, which addresses the problem of junk lawsuits filed with the intention of driving the firearms industry out of business, by attempting to hold manufacturers and dealers liable for the crimes of others.

And we need your support on this important piece of legislation. Twenty-eight states, including my own of Georgia, have already enacted this kind of legislation. The U.S. Congress should follow suit.

I got my first gun - a 20 gauge Stevens - when I was twelve years old, and since that time I`ve accumulated quite a few others. Like many of you, I`ve got more guns than I need but not as many as I want.

Now that may sound a bit confusing to some - a Democrat wanting more guns.

Well, just to clear up any confusion, hear this good - I am also a Life Member of the National Rifle Association, with an A + rating, and I`m darned proud of it!

Somehow the media and pundits conveniently overlook that Freedom is not partisan. She does not label herself with an "R" or a "D." She welcomes all who would embrace and defend her. She is neither bound by political party, nor heritage, nor station in life, nor evil act of terrorism.

The boundless nature of Freedom has never been more evident than on September 11. Evil cowards may attack concrete and metal, but they can never destroy the steel of the righteous American heart longing to live free!

President Bush was right when he urged Americans to get back to living, working and raising our families. To BE free, we must LIVE free. I am very proud of our President. Because to DEFEND freedom, we must FIGHT for freedom.

The world must be safe for democracy, its peace planted upon the foundation of liberty. That is the fight our Commander-in-Chief -- backed by America`s finest in the military -- is waging. Peace and liberty are at stake. I support the President and I know you do, too!

Here at home, in our fight against suicidal terrorists who slit the throats of bound flight attendants and crash planes into our cities, the most certain line of defense is a skillfully trained, highly dedicated, ARMED U.S. airline pilot. Our pilots want that choice and most Americans support them.

To President Bush and his Administration I say this -- We trust the pilot in the cockpit with our lives. It`s time to trust him with a firearm!

Just a week before this past Christmas, we witnessed the true essence of freedom. On December 18, the oppressed city of Kandahar was liberated by U.S. troops. Within minutes, the streets of that city were filled with music, men and women dancing with delight, and squealing children playing on homemade, wooden ferris wheels.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Mr. Heston and the other Founding Fathers were pretty doggoned smart when they wrote those words. Actually, Mr. Heston did write, in a letter to his Grandson, that, "This country is still what it has been from the beginning ... an example to the world: Men can live free. In America, democracy works. Not as well as we need it to work sometimes, but we are still, to the rest of the world, the shining door to freedom."

Those words fill us with inspiration. They also burden us with duty. America can only serve as that shining door to the world if we remain vigilant in our defense of freedom here at home.

Vigilance is not passive. It is active. Freedom is not a spectator sport for which we cheer from the stands. We - Americans - have to get in the game.

You know, I love baseball. I`ve played it, coached it, and have been a student and fan of the game all my life. It`s been said that if you want to really know America, you have to know baseball.

As an ardent fan of the Second Amendment, I can say this -- If you really want to know about defending freedom, you have to know members of the National Rifle Association!

Clearly, your active vigilance was brought to bear in the last election. And make no mistake about it. Your efforts in the 2000 elections were joined by tens of thousands of freedom-loving Republicans, Independents and Democrats in Georgia, Arkansas, West Virginia and Tennessee.

I recall the surprise of national Democratic leaders at losing those states in the presidential election. All their expert pollsters said voters favored gun control. It reminded me of the time I was running for reelection as Governor in 1994. Some of these experts urged me to change my long time position on guns, saying that most Georgians favored gun control. Well, I stand with heart-felt conviction over a political wind gauge any day.

But my gut instinct said their polls were wrong. I said, "You`re asking the question the wrong way. Ask whether they agree or disagree with this statement: "Whenever I hear politicians talking about gun control, it makes me wonder if they understand my values or my way of life."

You know how many agreed? 73 percent!

What many do not understand is that the gun issue is not just about guns. It`s about values. It`s about setting priorities. It`s about personal freedom. It`s about trust.

And when you get right down to it, that`s what elections are about: TRUST, PLAIN AND SIMPLE. At the core of a free society is the trust "We the People" place in candidates when we elect them to office to serve our values. And, as Mr. Heston so eloquently stated during the last campaign, "Freedom runs in every race."

Today, our freedom faces a far greater threat than that of any anti-gun politician. If we don`t remain as vigilant as ever, freedom could be lost forever.

A couple of years ago, an Emory University professor, named Michael E. Bellesiles wrote the most distorted view ever published about the role of firearms in early America. It was called Arming America. It delighted anti-gun reviewers by claiming that colonial militias were ineffective, settlers seldom engaged in hunting and colonists had little interest in owning firearms. The New York Times gave it a glowing, almost giddy review of several pages, as did the other liberal media.

It would seem that, in Bellesiles` America-in-Wonderland, colonists were na‹ve, wishy-washy peace nicks.

WELL, TELL THAT TO THE BRITISH REDCOATS WHO TRIED TO CROSS CONCORD BRIDGE!

Tell that to Thomas Jefferson, who said, "No free man shall EVER be debarred the use of arms."

Or Samuel Adams, who said, "The Constitution shall NEVER be construed to authorize Congress ... to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms."

Tell that to James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, who explained that the Constitution preserves "the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms."

And Thomas Paine, the writer of Common Sense, that pamphlet that inspired the Revolution, who wrote, "Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world."

Or finally, Patrick Henry, who warned us to "Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. SUSPECT EVERYONE who approaches that jewel."

In those words of Patrick Henry, I SUSPECT Professor Bellesiles of the willful intent to kill the Second Amendment. But all his distortion, backed by all the anti-gun media in the world, CANNOT MURDER THE FOUNDING FATHERS` WISDOM THAT NO MAN BE DISARMED!

By the way, when other historians later began to really examine the Bellesiles book, which was marketed as "the NRA`s worst nightmare," they found that he had actually made up much of his so-called research. Just made it up out of the thin air of anti-gun bias.

And one of the most respected historians at Emory called the research "scholarly incompetence." An inquiry is presently underway, as the dean of that university said this week, to address allegations of misconduct in research.

NRA`s worst nightmare? I don`t think so.

But, my friends, that`s the kind of thing we`re up against, and it has come down to us - Guardians of the Liberty of the Second Amendment - to ensure the preservation of our heritage. And we must meet the challenges of our time as those who came before us met the challenges in their day.

I urge everyone here in this room to talk to a young person about America`s liberty. Talk to them about and the Second Amendment`s meaning of freedom. If we don`t do that, I can promise you no one else will.

It is our duty - yours and mine - to pass on to our children and grandchildren the wisdom of the Bill of Rights, that great backbone of Freedom. And, if we ever allow one vertebra in that backbone to weaken, this country will end up with a permanent curvature of the spine.

I am pleased to see some young faces here in this audience.

THEY are OUR future. Our children ... your children and their children are our future.

The future of our world is on the faces of those children laughing and celebrating liberty in the streets of Kandahar. Our future is in the bright eyes of our grandchildren, eager to ask, "But why?" The future relies upon the unblinking aim of a young shooter and the wonderment of a boy on his first hunt in the woods.

Like the tiny hand of the young girl reaching up to her Grandfather`s weathered grip, our children reach up to us - especially during today`s troubling times. Their future is in our hands.

If America is to remain the bright doorway of Freedom for the world, we must be that shining portal for our children. That is our role and we are duty bound to serve its just cause.

Another Democrat once put it this way: "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility - I welcome it."

Those are the words of another NRA Life Member, President John F. Kennedy.

Yes, men CAN live free. And together, let us welcome our duty in passing that basic tenet on to our future generations.

I love America.

The heart of all that is good and right about America is, "One Nation, Under God, Indivisible, With Liberty And Justice For All."

The heart of this great organization pounds with the blood of those before us who sacrificed their lives in the name of Liberty. And our heart must ache with the same yearning of our Forefathers:

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

May God Bless You All. God Bless Our President and Armed Forces! God Bless America!

Zell Miller was appointed to the U.S. Senate after the death of Sen. Paul Coverdell in July 2000 and won election in November 2000. Previously, he served two terms as Governor of Georgia.
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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.