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Remarks by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-22) at the 2005 NRA Annual Meeting in Houston, Texas

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for that warm welcome-I hope the national media saw that. Wayne, thank you for that introduction.

If I could just take a personal privilege here for a moment, I’ve been in elected office now for 26 years, and this is the highlight of my career, and I want to take just a moment. I tell you what-to be the keynote speaker for the NRA’s annual meeting in my hometown, Houston- Houston, Texas (a concealed carry state, by the way, that we’re very proud of) is truly an honor. And it’s humbling, it really is humbling to be here with good friends like Congressman John Culberson, Congressman Steve King, Senator Larry Craig. And to see Senator Zell Miller again, I tell you what, Zell, we already miss you in Congress. What a great American.

As I was walking up here to the dais, Chris Cox, who’s a very dear friend, and so’s Wayne LaPierre, who was telling me to hang in there, said that Sarah Brady said that when a man’s in trouble or a good fight, you want all your friends around you, preferably armed. So I feel really good tonight. It’s just incredible to be here in front of the NRA, the fighters and protectors of freedom-freedom, ladies and gentlemen-that’s what it’s all about. And before I begin my remarks, I just want to assure everyone that I’ve been in politics long enough to know that at a big banquet like this, speakers are usually judged more on their brevity than their brilliance. And that’s okay, since over the last four years you may have noticed that us Texans are not known for our “eloquocity.” The national media and liberal Democrats give me a hard time for being an exterminator, but how do you think I got the experience to do what I do? So, it is great to be with you.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is unfortunate in our electoral system, exacerbated by our media system, that political discourse tends to get so overheated that its not only arguments but motives that are questioned. We start by asking which policies are right and wrong, and that quickly move to which ideas are good and bad. We then move to questioning our opponents’ motives, and then their character. However diametrically opposed our views may be, however cynical we believe our opponents may act, however unavoidable those disputes may be, the failure of our political discourse to rise above the instincts of our baser inclinations is in fact a failure inherent in human nature. We don’t always understand each other and when we disagree, we have a tendency to question the sincerity of our opponents. This is especially true in the debate about the right of the American people to keep and bear arms. For the most part people who have grown up around firearms in hunting families tend to see guns as a normal part of life, like fishing or watching football on Sunday afternoons. When such families and communities think of guns they don’t think of crime they think of hunting, and time spent with their fathers in the blind. We were learning about hunting, yes, but more importantly, we were spending time with dad and learning what it means to be a man.

Unfortunately, too many of our fellow countrymen don’t share our cultural touchstones. When they think of guns, they have no point of reference that gives them any kind of insight to understand why we feel so strongly about the right to keep and bear arms. We certainly don’t have to agree with those who seek to deny us our Second Amendment rights, but we do have to remember that while our opponents’ policies and issues may be bad, that doesn’t mean our opponents are bad people.

So what does the Second Amendment actually say? “A Well Regulated Militia, Being Necessary to the Security of a Free State, the Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not be Infringed.” “Necessary to the Security of a Free State.” Our founding fathers didn’t consider the right to keep and bear arms a benefit to living in a free country, they believed this right was necessary if a free country was to long endure. Liberty could not be secured if a people didn’t have the right to defend themselves. Richard Henry Lee, the signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote that “to preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms.” And while Thomas Jefferson saw the right to keep and bear arms first and foremost as a preserver of a free form of government, he also recognized another reason for citizens to have the right to keep and bear arms, namely that armed law-abiding citizens would be a deterrent to criminals. Jefferson quoted 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria, who said, “laws that forbid the carrying of arms, disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes.” Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailant. They serve to rather to encourage than prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” In other words, law-abiding citizens carrying guns are actually a deterrent to crime. If you don’t believe it, right here in Houston, before we got our concealed weapons carry [law], we had a phenomenon, more than highway robbery, we called it freeway robbery. Criminals would find a woman alone in an expensive car, pull up behind her, bump her, and then rob her. The day that concealed carry in Texas went into effect, that all stopped. It wasn’t that any women were carrying guns under concealed carry because it took a long time to get a license; no one had concealed carry on September 1 of that year. But to those cowards just the thought that women may be packing kept them from driving up.

And I’ll tell you, for evidence of that we just need to check out the “Armed Citizen” column in the American Rifleman to read stories like that of Candice McClellan in Corpus Christi, TX, who frightened off three intruders who broke into her house where she was alone with her one year old daughter, by firing a .38 caliber revolver she kept for protection; or the grocery store owner who protected himself and his pregnant wife by shooting the armed intruder who broke into his store; or Tom Roper who found a burglar stealing narcotics from his pharmacy and held him at gunpoint until the police arrived. These stories, and the hundreds of other like them, show the importance of preserving our second amendment rights. These citizens prevented what might have been horrible crimes because they had the right to protect themselves and their families. Our founders believed in that right for every citizen to defend themselves and their families when they drafted the constitution, and today it is the solemn duty of every elected official who swears to uphold and defend the constitution to protect and preserve that basic right today. I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, we in congress are working to make certain that the Second Amendment rights of every citizen are protected. Kay Bailey Hutchison mentioned a couple of them.

 So, what exactly have we done to protect these rights? Well for starters, last year Congress passed and the president signed HR 218, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004, to exempt qualified current and former law enforcement officers from state laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons. Over the next two years, congress will work and pass a Second Amendment right in Washington D.C. for their residents. And Kay Bailey Hutchison talked about passing a gun manufacturers’ liability reform, to prevent manufacturers from being held liable for the actions of those who use their products in a criminal manner. Both of these bills were passed by the House in the last Congress, but were unfortunately held up in the Senate. The house is committed to passing these bills again and passing them to the Senate, where we hope they will quickly get them to the president for his signature. You know, when proponents of gun control object to bills like these, they like to talk as if we really don’t care about gun violence. But I can tell you one thing, I do know and care about gun violence-I’ve experienced it. When I was 18, my brothers and I used to serve as hunting guides for some of my father’s clients. On one of these trips, I took along an accountant with thick glasses- my dad’s accountant as it happened- for his first hunting trip. At one point, he somehow got separated from us, and moved around front of us, and then we came up on a covey of quail and flushed them out. All the hunters took aim and shot. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, this bespectacled bean counter got himself turned around in front of the rest of us so as the quail flushed, he fired 2 rounds of 20 gauge through a bush and into my face. That’s why I have such a beautiful face. And I’ve got to tell you, most boys think acne is bad for the complexion, try spending an afternoon picking quail shot out of your face.

But seriously, the people who favor gun control would like to use stories like mine as a reason to infringe upon citizen’s Second Amendment rights. After all, people are injured and killed by guns, their reasoning goes, so we ought to restrict, or ban gun ownership. The problem with line of reasoning is that people aren’t killed by guns, they’re killed by people. That shotgun didn’t shoot me; my dad’s accountant shot me. That brings to mind another reason why the NRA is so important: because of the training that it offers in the safe and proper use of firearms. The NRA’s 50000 instructors are teaching millions of Americans how to use firearms safely and responsibly, and their teaching is having an effect. Wayne LaPierre was telling me how they’re going to put instructors in every major city in America to teach women firearms safety and how to use a firearm. I think that’s just fantastic. You want to empower women in America, give ‘em a gun! Or the kind of safety that Eddie Eagle Gun Safe programs give, like 8-year-old Billy Thornton, who used the skills he learned in the program when he encountered a loaded gun in the bathroom in the bathroom of a Knoxville credit union. Thanks to the Eddie Eagle programs, Billy knew to stop, don’t touch, leave the area, tell an adult. Billy followed those instructions, and his father safely retrieved the gun and turned it in. Programs like these are vastly reducing incidences of accidental gun violence; and I’m only sorry my dad’s accountant never met Eddie Eagle!

But I am grateful to the NRA for all that it does to educate Americans in the safe and proper use of firearms, and for all its efforts to defend our Second Amendment rights. Because the same right that saved Candace McClellan and Tom Roper may tomorrow save you, your spouse, or your children.

Ladies and Gentleman it isn’t just ourselves and our homes that need defending, it’s our Freedom. Freedom, Ladies and Gentlemen. America. America and Freedom. What kind of freedom in America today? Today in America a young wife is driving back to her home on the base, having just kissed her husband goodbye as he boarded a transport enroute to Iraq. Today in America, a doctor in a small town is trying to determine how he can continue his practice after having just received his new malpractice premium. Today in America, a college freshman has found out she is pregnant, and all alone in her dorm room, she contemplates what seems to her a choice between the impossible and the unthinkable. Today in America, a wounded soldier is recovering in Walter Reed, wondering what he can still contribute to his country as a 22 year old without his legs or a college degree. Today in America, an abused neglected child will spend her first night in the safe warm home of her adopted family. A middle-aged housewife is proudly informing her family that she has decided to go back to school. A young husband is frantically reminding his wife to breathe as they speed towards the hospital to deliver their first baby. A newlywed couple is placing a bid on their first home. A poor daughter of immigrants has just been accepted to medical school. And a young man who grew up in the shadows of the World Trades Centers is walking into a recruiting office to enlist in the Marine Corps on his 18th birthday.

That’s our country. A free America. That’s a free America. That’s freedom. You know, 24 years ago, Ronald Reagan said “no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men.” Freedom, ladies and gentlemen. God gives it, the constitution guarantees it, and together we’ll defend it. God bless you, God bless the NRA, and have a good night.

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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.