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Remarks By Governor Jeb Bush At The 2003 NRA Annual Meeting

Monday, May 5, 2003

"The Second Amendment is the original homeland security act!"
--- Florida Governor Jeb Bush, April 26, 2003

Thank you very much. Thank you so much.

The most beautiful lady of all the land, my wife, Columba, and I are so delighted that you are here in Orlando, Florida.

Come back often. It`s the reason why we don`t have an income tax.

The dirty little secret is that we have people coming in the thousands and thousands to conventions like this, perhaps not as big as the NRA convention, but on a regular basis they come to visit us, and we are so proud to be the host of this great convention.

I am also proud that you honored, and I watched it on television last night, Charlton Heston, what a great American hero — someone who led this incredible organization to new heights.

The NRA has always been a powerful force for protecting our freedoms all across the country, but under the leadership of Charlton Heston and your great team, that has worked so hard, the NRA is an effective organization that protects the Bill of Rights.

And my friend Tom Feeney is here, newly elected to the United States Congress, he was Speaker of the House during two of my years as Governor. Speaker Feeney would remind me that all of the Bill of Rights are worth fighting for — all of them together, not just single ones. You don`t isolate them; they are all important.

And Charlton Heston did his part in that regard. Kayne, I know you will do a great job with the team that is in place and the thousands, the millions, of members of the NRA, the four million members of the NRA.

I also want to recognize the fact that history is being made here today. We have the entire Florida Cabinet, and in Florida we now have four statewide-elected officials that serve in state government, and all of them are at this convention. Never before would that have happened. And I am proud of my fellow colleagues.

Just as there are many leaders in this room, and the people here understand that leadership truly does matter as it relates to public life or leadership in being a mom or a dad or being successful in business, you all know how important leadership is.

In public life, there aren`t as many public figures, in my opinion, that have the strength of character to stand in the face of firm opposition and do what they know in their hearts to be right. I happen to believe that my brother is one of those, and I am very, very proud of him.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of my brother, how proud I am as an American of his leadership during these tumultuous times. I`ll make sure he knows you love him.

But as a brother, you would expect me to be proud. I mean I`m not objective about this. I have no pretense of objectivity. You all should be just as proud of your involvement in the 2000 election, because if it were not for your active involvement, it is safe to say that my brother would not have been elected President of the United States. And things could have been completely different as it relates to the role of the United States in the world.

Forty-eight percent of the voters in 2000 had guns in their homes, according to the exit polls done by Newsweek magazine. Gun owners voted overwhelmingly for President Bush. Second Amendment issues were the deciding factor in several states.

Now in Florida, of course, George won by a landslide so it is hard to say whether or not the gun issues mattered, and no other than Bill Clinton, a great observer of the political process, blamed the NRA for the White House loss as well as the House of Representatives. I never agreed too much with President Clinton, but I think he may have gotten it right on that one.

You helped elect this President, and you chose well. George Bush is on record for supporting the right of responsible citizens to carry guns for protection.

He honors and protects the rights granted by our Constitution, including the right to bear arms.

He recognizes the Second Amendment as an individual right, and he knows the way to lower crime is by prosecuting violent felons, not gun makers.

So you did your part, and I believe you are seeing the result of strong leadership.

I am so proud of the role of Florida in the efforts to protect our freedom and to liberate countries in Afghanistan and Iraq. Think about this for a moment.

Yesterday you met with some of the military men and women from Central Command at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa; Mayport Naval Station is the home port for the John F. Kennedy and other carriers now serving in the Arabian Gulf; the special forces are trained at Hurlbert Field in Northwest Florida; Tyndall Air Force Base provides Air Force support in the war effort; and Eglin Air Force Base is the site where most of the testing of these incredible weapons occurred, that have diminished loss of life significantly and made the war a lot shorter. All right here in Florida.

And I can tell you as Governor, I am so proud of the enlisted men and women, the National Guard men and women and reservists that have done their job so well.

The good thing about the NRA is that it is not a "one election" kind of operation. It gets involved in issues each and every day throughout all of the country, in state legislatures, in advancing gun safety, and doing the things that you do, but I want to tell you also as a candidate for re-election in 2002, I thank you for your support of my candidacy, it made a difference, and I am very, very grateful.

Wayne, I don`t know how you do this, but you endorsed 24 candidates for the United States Senate last year — 21 were elected. Amazing. 246 candidates were endorsed by the NRA in the United States House of Representatives, including my friends and colleagues that are here today to pay tribute to you and thank you for what you did. 230 were elected. Those are incredible statistics!

You know, it is, I think, a joy to be in public life. It is a joy to be actively involved. Many of my friends that are involved in the public arena through the NRA have a joyful attitude, because they know it is a privilege in a free society to express their opinions and to be actively engaged.

And since 9/11, and most particularly now, I think we need to recognize the power of our freedoms. How important they are to protect. How important it is to be engaged.

You all as an organization play a critical role in protecting our freedoms. It`s also not just about the Bill of Rights and about freedom, it`s about protecting the optimism of our incredible country. In my job I get to hear a lot of people who don`t have a sense of optimism about the future. They come to Tallahassee asking for things, a lot of them do. Many come to not ask government to get in their lives, but a lot come asking for things and like to think — woe is me. And the editorial pages, a lot of them in our state, have a pessimistic attitude about the future.

I believe that the greatest thing about our country is the sense of optimism, a belief in our ability to right the wrong things that exist, to fix what is broken, and have a belief that the future is going to be brighter for ourselves and our children than what we have today. This makes us so remarkably resilient as a nation.

It is simply not in our nature to give up. So after 9/11, I wasn`t surprised to see how Floridians and Americans responded to the challenge of new threats to our security. While there were calls for taking away our freedoms and liberties, there was a resolute attitude about going about our business but doing so now being part of the homeland defense.

We are a peaceful people, because we choose to be. However, we will fight for our freedom and liberty, and we will fight for others who yearn to be free.

The sound of our guns is the sound of freedom!

That exists now as a guiding principle of our country.

Every right, every right that we have in the freest, the most incredible country that has ever existed since the beginning of mankind, every right is accompanied by responsibility. That right, those rights, the connection between rights and responsibility cannot be separated.

In uncertain times, some people demand more government as though the answer to every issue is government intervention. We cannot give government this collective responsibility without diminishing ourselves.

Government only grows by encroaching on individual rights. There is an inverse relationship that we need to remind the American people of each and every day. As we ask government to do more for us, we by default, or perhaps in increments not discernable to the naked eye, take away basic individual freedoms that have created the greatness of our country.

In short, good government is lean government.

We earn the government we deserve by defending our rights against all threats.

And so here is one governor, and here is one state, that I believe is a model for many other places around the country. Whenever the first call for solving a problem occurs now in Florida, we don`t automatically say let`s take more money out of people`s pockets; let`s create another law; or let`s create another regulation.

We first say, "Can we solve this in civil society?" "Can we strengthen families?" "Can we figure out ways to deal with this problem?" "Is the problem as big as it appears; will it subside?" We first ask these questions so that we can protect these bedrock freedoms that create the greatness of our country.

The Second Amendment is called America`s first freedom, because it is the right we turn to when all else fails. Clearly our Founding Fathers believed that if this right is restricted, all other rights will be in jeopardy.

The Second Amendment is the original homeland security act!

So I am really proud to stand here before you tonight as an NRA member for the past 15 years, and as Governor of Florida, a state in my opinion that has become a model for Second Amendment protection.

We have done this in two ways.

First, we have focused on punishing habitual criminals, particularly criminals who use guns in the commission of crimes. We`ve done that by passing laws like 10-20-Life, an idea that was clearly stolen by your`s truly from the guy out in California. And we stole it lock, stock and barrel without being embarrassed about it. We passed the law, and today gun violence has dropped by 25% in the last four years, because now people are put away for a long period of time.

In fact, because of the strategy that started before I became Governor and has continued on, we now have the lowest crime rate in the state of Florida in the last 30 years. But we have also ... focused on protecting the Second Amendment by expanding the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

In the last four years, we have passed a Right-to-Carry reciprocity bill. We already had the Right- to-Carry law.

We have passed a law to protect sport shooting ranges in our state from issues related to land use decisions at the local level. We have passed a bill restricting lawsuits against lawful firearm manufacturers; no longer can cities, municipalities, preempt, or litigate.

And today in Florida an elected official, Charlie Bronson, our Agriculture Commissioner, is the person in charge of the Concealed Firearm Licensing Bureau, which I think is important that this be in the hands of an elected official.

But perhaps more than all of the laws we have passed, Florida`s most important contribution to the Second Amendment may be Marion Hammer.

Marion, I want to wish you a happy birthday. She is a tiger!

With Marion`s proper guidance, this year we didn`t pass any bills, because I think we have done everything. We have done everything haven`t we?

There`s not much left to do, but I now that if there is a problem that comes up or an issue that needs to be resolved in order to protect the Second Amendment in the State of Florida, I will hear from Marion, and we will get to work and be sure that whatever problem there is will be resolved.

Finally, let me just tell you how grateful I am for your continued involvement in the political process. We are living in wondrous times. They are scary for some. They are certainly difficult for many, as we are suffering a bit through a down-turn in our economy, but at the same time, I do believe that there is a spirit of optimism that does exist.

Perhaps it is because of the confidence people have in their government and their Commander in Chief and their President, but also I think because we are a country of individuals and families that truly do believe in our traditions and truly do believe in our liberties and freedoms. The intellectuals out there, not intellectuals, but the opinion leaders, may try to tell us otherwise, but I think the good common sense of the American people is alive and well.

It is great to be an American in 2003, and I encourage you, I really encourage you to continue to stay involved in the political process.

Don`t let people push you back. Don`t let people tell you that it is not right for you all to continue to be active.

Without your involvement the void will be filled by some other group with a cause that may not be one that we share.

Congratulations on an incredible successful period of time in the life of the NRA. God bless you all, and God bless our great country.

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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.