Thank you all. All right. Well, thank you very much. That was a great welcome, and I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the 133rd Annual Meeting of the National Rifle Association.
I`ve been looking forward to this event, and I`m pleased to see so many old friends this evening. And I`m honored to bring you greetings from our President, George. W. Bush.
The President also has many friends here tonight -- I know that Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox recently visited him down at the ranch in Crawford. The President and I appreciate the hard work of your national leadership -- Wayne, Chris, and Kayne Robinson -- as well as the fine men and women who represent the NRA in their states and hometowns all across America. I also want to thank Cecil Brooks for his many contributions to the NRA over the years, and for the beautiful rifle he`s crafted for this event.
Let me recognize the distinguished members of Congress present this evening: Tim Murphy, who represents Pittsburgh in the House of Representatives - ; Senator Zell Miller, of Georgia - - It`s not too late, Zell. You could run one more time. And of course, my good friend Larry Craig, of Idaho - I`m also delighted to see my good friend, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Joe Allbaugh. Joe is here this evening. It`s always good to have a firearm if you get into real trouble -- but the next best thing is Joe Allbaugh. Joe, it`s good to have you here.
We have people here tonight from almost every part of the country, and I’m told some NRA members have come all the way from Wyoming. Over here. All right. There’s still fewer than half a million of us, the smallest state in the nation in terms of population, so we’re not usually the biggest delegation at any national event. But as I said when I was the lone congressman from Wyoming, the delegation may be small, but it is all quality.
I returned last night from a week-long trip to the Far East. After meetings with leaders in Japan, China, and South Korea, I made my last stop yesterday afternoon at Yongsan Garrison, a U.S. Army post in Seoul, Korea. We had a tremendous event with the soldiers and their families, serving our country in a vital region of the world. There are men and women like them tonight stationed all over the globe. I imagine we have more than a few military families in this room -- with a husband, a wife, a son, or daughter, a grandchild, or other family member wearing the uniform today. I know you’re proud of them. Our whole nation is proud of them. And they are proving every day that when we send them to defend this nation and our interests, we are sending the very best of the United States of America.
We meet tonight with the election season of 2004 well underway. And it’s off to a good start. Here among friends, I can confide that President Bush has once again asked me to head up his vice-presidential search committee. And once again, I’ve accepted the assignment.
As for the President’s opponent, he has only begun his search for a running mate. The big question is, will he go for somebody who is sober, serious, and well versed in policy, or will he follow President Bush’s lead and settle for pure charisma?
The Republican ticket this year, once again, is two Westerners who are lifelong gun owners, hunters, and anglers -- and strong believers in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. Like many of you, I grew up close to the land, learned from my dad how to handle a gun, and still look forward to every chance to join up with friends to go hunting. I take my hunting seriously, in part because I think Lynne still expects me to bring dinner home once in a while.
Because of our own experiences in life, President Bush and I also take seriously our duty to act as stewards of the land, and to permit the responsible use of federal lands by our citizens. At the President’s direction, Secretary Gale Norton has made opening federal lands to sportsmen and conservation groups a priority for our administration.
Since 2001, we’ve expanded hunting and fishing access to include more than 275 refuges, and we have upheld the rights of hunters and anglers in our National Park System. And through our Take Pride in America program, sportsmen and volunteers from across the country have joined to take better care of the public lands, and to help preserve America’s great open spaces.
Under President Bush, the executive branch also understands that the Second Amendment affirms more than a symbolic principle. It states, after all, that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
This means, as the Attorney General has stated unequivocally, that law abiding citizens of the United States have the individual right to own a firearm.
The right to own a firearm carries serious responsibilities, which your organization and our administration, well understand. The NRA has long led the way in promoting gun safety, and in advocating the toughest penalties for those who commit crimes with firearms. This belief in personal responsibility has guided our criminal justice policy these last three years. As a result, since President Bush took office, federal prosecutions of crimes committed with guns have increased 68 percent - sending - -- sending the clearest possible message to any person who would threaten or harm another innocent person with a gun. As the President has said, "If you use a gun illegally, you will do hard time."
Our administration is helping to make families and communities safer through measures like Project Safe Neighborhoods, which helps local officials to deter, prosecute, and prevent crimes committed with guns. Our law enforcement policies are proving effective, and they are based on an unmistakable principle shared by President Bush and all of you: The most effective way to prevent crimes committed with firearms is to go after the criminals themselves, not the law-abiding gun owners of America.
In the past three years, we have made steady progress toward granting gun owners and manufacturers fair treatment under our nation’s laws. Yet we realize there’s more work to do. President Bush and I have strongly supported Senate Bill 1805, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which the Senate debated earlier this year. This bill would protect the manufacturers of firearms from frivolous lawsuits. It thereby reaffirms the principle that we should be going after individuals who use guns illegally, instead of blaming someone else for their crimes. The President has worked hard for a clean bill, and when the House and Senate deliver such a bill, he will proudly sign it into law.
On this issue, as on so many others, gun owners and manufacturers know exactly where the President stands -- going all the way back to his days as Governor of Texas, he led successful efforts to protect firearm manufacturers then from frivolous lawsuits and to give citizens of Texas the right to carry a firearm to protect themselves. The President’s opponent in this campaign, the Junior Senator from Massachusetts, has shown in his career where he stands, as well.
Earlier this year, when S. 1805 came to the Senate floor, Senator Kerry opposed it. He even left the campaign trail to come back and vote against the bill in his first appearance in the Senate during the primary voting season. That was only one of many votes that merit close study by supporters of the Second Amendment. Senator Kerry has consistently supported punishing lawful manufacturers for actions committed by criminals. He has singled out firearms makers as unworthy of bankruptcy protection, even from debts caused by fraud. John Kerry’s approach to the Second Amendment has been to regulate, regulate and then regulate some more. He has voted to create a ban on ammunition used by hunters, and to allow federal authorities to randomly inspect gun dealers without notice.
Shortly after his arrival in Washington in 1985, Senator Kerry joined a very small minority in voting against the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which overturned the ban on the interstate sale of firearms. Since the mid-1980s, he has been a reliable vote in favor of long waiting periods. He supported a state waiting period even after the creation of the federal instant background check. And he opposed the destruction of records after background checks on handgun purchasers. Senator Kerry wanted the records to be kept for 180 days. The majority of Congress disagreed with that position, and so did our administration. So President Bush protected the privacy of gun owners and signed a law requiring the destruction of records within 24 hours.
Senator Kerry seems to have his own view of the Second Amendment. He has said, and I quote: "I believe that we have a strong Second Amendment belief structure in America." End quote. I’ve never heard it put quite that way. For myself, I don’t think of the Second Amendment as a "belief structure." The Second Amendment is a fundamental Constitutional right, written more than 200 years ago by James Madison, and ratified by every state in the Union.
Your organization has evaluated Senator Kerry’s record on gun rights and given him a grade of "F." And for his part, Senator Kerry has had a few things to say about you. He has promised to, quote, "stand up against" the NRA. He has said a number of times that he does not want to be the candidate of the NRA in this country. Well, the Senator is free to pursue endorsements from whomever he wishes.
But by standing against the NRA, he is showing what he thinks of the 133 years this organization has spent defending the Bill of Rights. He is standing against America’s leading provider of gun safety classes and firearms training, and against an organization with a superb record of supporting the strictest measures against violent crime. He prefers not to be the candidate of your four million members, many who have served in the military, as police officers, sheriffs, deputies, and firefighters, and whose predecessors include Presidents of the United States from Theodore Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan.
Ladies and gentlemen, this year, as in every election, you will have two presidential candidates asking for your vote. The difference is that only one of those candidates has shown you respect, earned your vote, and appreciates your support -- and that candidate is President George W. Bush.
The contrast between the candidates this year -- whether the issue is the rights of gun owners, or national security, or economic policy -- is very sharp. Americans are coming to learn that the choice this fall is as dramatic as in any recent election.
Over the past three years, President Bush has guided our country through extraordinary challenges -- meeting dangers with resolute action, and confronting problems directly, instead of leaving them to others. The American people saw the strength of his character on a September morning some 31 months ago. And from that day to this, they have seen his resolve in hunting down the terrorists who struck America.
America is carrying out an aggressive strategy in the war on terror -- not merely to prosecute a series of crimes, but to fight and win a global campaign against the terror network. Our terrorist enemies cannot be deterred, contained, appeased, or negotiated with. They can only be destroyed, and that is the business at hand.
In Afghanistan, we led a coalition to remove the brutal Taliban from power and destroyed the al-Qaeda training camps. In Iraq, America and our allies rid the Iraqi people of a murderous dictator and rid the world of a gathering danger to our peace and security.
Just over a year ago, Saddam Hussein controlled the lives and the future of almost 25 million people. Tonight he is in jail. He will never again brutalize the Iraqi people, never again to support dangerous terrorists or pursue weapons of mass destruction, never again threaten the United States of America.
We still face challenges in Afghanistan and Iraq, but our progress has been enormous. In Afghanistan, there is a new constitution. Free elections will be held later this year. In Iraq, a new basic law has been signed. This is an historic achievement, and a landmark document in that region.
Our will is still being tested in Iraq, as we have seen in the heavy fighting this month. Yet as Americans we understand what is at stake.
America accepts the responsibilities we`ve been given as freedom`s home and defender. And we will continue taking decisive action until the dangers to our country are removed.
These are not times for leaders who shift with the political winds, saying one thing one day and another the next. We need a Commander-in-Chief of clear vision and steady determination, and that’s just what we have in President George W. Bush.
In the coming months, the American people will be applying the same measure to Senator Kerry. In one of our opponent’s recent observations about foreign policy, he informed his listeners that he has met with unnamed foreign leaders who support him. A voter here in Pennsylvania asked Senator Kerry directly who these foreign leaders are. Senator Kerry said, that’s none of your business.
But it is our business when a candidate for President claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders. American voters are the ones charged with determining the outcome of this election, not unnamed foreign leaders.
Senator Kerry has also asserted that our troops in Iraq are not receiving the materiel support they need. May I remind the Senator that last Fall, at the President’s request, Congress considered legislation providing funding to support our troops for body armor, hazard pay, health benefits, ammunition, fuel, and spare parts for our military. Senator Kerry was asked at the time whether he would vote against the President’s request. He said, quote, "I don’t think any United States senator is going to abandon our troops -- That’s irresponsible." End quote. The legislation passed overwhelmingly, with a vote in the Senate of 87 to 12. Senator Kerry voted "no." As a way to clarify the matter, Senator Kerry recently said, and I quote, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." The Senator is free to vote as he wishes, but he should be held to his own standard: It is irresponsible to vote against vital support for the United States military.
On the broader picture, Senator Kerry has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all. Recently he said, I don`t want to use that terminology. In his view, opposing terrorism is far less of a military operation and more of an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement operation. As we have seen, however, that approach was tried before, and proved entirely inadequate to protecting the American people from terrorists who are quite certain they are at war with us.
I leave it for Senator Kerry to explain, or explain away his votes and his statements about the war on terror, our cause in Iraq, and the needs of the American military. Whatever the explanation, it is not an impressive record for someone who aspires to become Commander-in-Chief in this time of testing for our country.
The difference in philosophy between President Bush and his opponent is equally clear on the fundamental matter of our economy. When the President and I took office, the economy was sliding into recession. Then, just as our economy was ready to recover, terrorists struck our nation and shook our economy. President Bush has taken strong, confident steps to get the economy growing again. Working with our allies on Capitol Hill, the President has signed into law tax relief measures resulting in significant tax relief for millions of American families and businesses. We doubled the child tax credit, decreased the marriage penalty, cut tax rates across the board, and we’ve put the death tax on the way to extinction.
Now we are seeing the results of the President’s policies. Last month the economy added over 300,000 new jobs, and we have created more than 750,000 jobs since August. In the second half of last year, our economy grew at an annual rate of nearly 6.2 percent, its fastest pace in almost two decades, and the highest rate of any major industrialized nation in the world. The home ownership rate is the highest ever. Interest rates and inflation are low. Manufacturing activity is increasing. Productivity is high. Business investment is rising. Incomes are growing strongly. And America’s economy is moving in the right direction.
The American people are using their money far better than the government would have, and Congress was right to let them keep it. As you know, there are voices in the land who want to roll back the Bush tax cuts. If elected, Senator Kerry has promised to repeal the Bush tax cuts in his first 100 days in office. This isn’t surprising when you consider his record. Over the years, Senator Kerry has voted over 350 times for higher taxes on the American people -- including the biggest tax increase in American history. For the sake of long-term growth and job creation, we ought to do exactly the opposite of what Senator Kerry proposes. We should make the Bush tax cuts permanent.
It is also time for the United States Senate to get about the business of confirming President Bush’s judicial nominees. The President has put forward talented, experienced men and women who represent the mainstream of American law and American values -- judges who will apply the law instead of legislating from the bench. Yet Senate Democrats -- and this does not include Senator Zell Miller, I might add - -- have taken to waging unprecedented filibusters, denying up-or-down votes for months, or even years. That’s unfair to the nominees, and an abuse of the constitutional process. Every nominee deserves a prompt up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.
My friends, it’s been a great honor to serve alongside this President during this historic time. He has accomplished an extraordinary amount these past three years, and he has a clear vision for the future of our nation. Abroad, we will use America’s great power to serve great purposes -- to turn back the forces of terror, and to spread hope and freedom throughout the world.
And here at home, we will continue building prosperity that reaches every corner of the land, so that every child who grows up in the United States of America will have a chance to learn, to succeed, and to rise in the world.
We’re going to campaign hard. We won’t take any region, or organization, or vote for granted. We’re looking forward to debating the issues that matter most. The President and I welcome your support. And I am confident that, six-and-a-half months from now, with the clearest of alternatives before them, the American people will choose the confident, steady, principled leadership of our President, George W. Bush.
Thank you very much.