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Remarks by Senator John Thune (R-SD) at NRA's "Celebration of American Values" Conference in Washington, DC -- 9/21/07

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Monday, October 01, 2007

THUNE: Thank you all very much for that warm welcome.

 

It's great to see a bunch of fellow freedom fighters here today in Washington, D.C. I want to welcome you to Washington, D.C., or, as some people refer to it, Disneyland East.

 

You have to constantly remind yourself around here that our founders designed an inefficient form of government, because it certainly works that way.

 

But I do appreciate the great leadership, Chris Cox, Wayne LaPierre, who you heard from earlier, Chuck Cunningham. The team that you have here representing you in Washington, D.C., really is second to none, not only in quality, the caliber of the individuals that they are, but also their continuity. It's really important in this town to have -- to build relationships. And these are people who are extremely well-respected and do a -- just your entire team out here -- a great job of representing your interests.

 

But it is challenging in Washington, D.C., to get things done, as I'm sure you all know, and at many times frustrating.

 

In fact, I'm loved the story that's told about the surgeon, the architect and the politician, who are having a discussion about which was the oldest profession. And the surgeon says, "Well surely, mine was the oldest profession because, after all, when, you know, God created Eve, he had to take a rib out of Adam and that required surgery."

 

And the architect said, "Well, wait just a minute. Before that happened, chaos reigned and prevailed on the Earth. Somebody had to make order out of the chaos and that required an architect."

 

And the politician's listening to this discussion and, not to be out done, says, "Well, wait just a minute. Who do you think created the chaos in the first place?"

And a lot of times watching what happens out here looks very chaotic, and at, particularly, certain times of the years.

 

There are many parts of what we do here in Washington that are in desperate need of reform, one of which is the budget process, something that I've advocated since my years in the House of Representatives. But it seems like every year we end up in November and December, we don't get out appropriation bills passed, we end up passing a huge omnibus spending bill at the end of the year that keeps Congress in session often times right up until Christmas.

 

But I remember a couple years -- well, a few years ago now, when I was in the House of Representatives, having a discussion. We were huddled around on the House floor and it was, like, close to Christmas and we hadn't gotten through with our work yet. We were still trying to wrap up the budget process. And there were a small group of members of the House of Representatives together and we were, sort of, talking about, "What are you telling your constituents back in your home state about what Congress is still doing out here? It's almost Christmas, we're still in Washington D.C., we haven't been able to get our work done?"

 

And we're having this discussion, everybody's talking about it, and there was an older member of Congress, a Southerner -- a conservative Southern member of the House of Representatives who's in on this conversation. And as we're all sitting there talking about the different things that we're telling our constituents back in our home states about why Congress is still here and hasn't concluded its work, he chimed in, he said, "Well, I just tell them, 'They're trying to take away our guns.'" And I...

 

And I thought, you know, unfortunately, that's, kind of, true around here. You've got a lot of the -- what I call the bicoastal anti-gun elites, who have an agenda that is very much intent on that.

 

But thanks to your efforts and those of thousands of your members around this country, we've been able to prevent that from happening, to defeat that agenda, and to make sure that those who would undermine the freedoms that are guaranteed in our Second Amendment are stopped in their tracks.

 

When you come to Washington, D.C., you obviously see all the symbols of freedom and democracy that we have here in this country. You go around this town, you go to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, all these wonderful sights -- the Capitol, the White House, it's a wonderful, wonderful city to visit.

 

And it's a reminder of the freedoms that we enjoy in this country. What differentiates this country from every other country around the world is the freedoms that we enjoy. And it didn't happen without a price. There are many who have paid dearly over the years of this great republic to make sure that we continue to enjoy those freedoms.

 

And what I'd like to do -- I know there are probably some who have served in the military here, some veterans perhaps, those who have served past and present -- to ask them to stand. And if anybody here who have served in the military, any veteran stand. We'd like to recognize you and just thank you for your service and your sacrifice for this country.

 

Any veterans here today?

 

A lot of them.

 

Thank you all very, very much.

 

We are enormously indebted to you that we are able to enjoy the freedoms that we have here in this country.

 

You know, back in 1906 a couple of Norwegian brothers named Matthew and Nicolai Gjelsvik came to this country from Norway through Ellis Island. The only English they knew were the words "apple pie" and "coffee," which they had a lot of on the way over.

 

When they got to Ellis Island, they were headed to South Dakota, and they asked them what they wanted their name to be in the new country. They said that -- they'd asked them to change their name; they said the name Gjelsvik -- which was spelled Gjelsvik -- would be too difficult to spell and pronounce for people in this country, so they asked them to change their name and to -- as they entered the new country.

 

And so, they picked the name of the farm where they worked in Berjin, Norway, which was the Thune farm.

 

And so, Nicolai Gjelsvik became Nick Thune, my grandfather. He went on to start a merchandising business which, subsequently, became a hardware store, raised three sons through the Great Depression. The middle son, my father, Harold, became an accomplished basketball star at the University of Minnesota.

 

When World War II broke out, decided that he should serve his country. Went to flight training school, became a naval aviator. Was thrust into one of the great naval battles of modern history, the Second Battle of the Philippine Seas, where he shot down four enemy warcraft, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

 

And he, like so many millions of other Americans of that generation, took on what was the great evil of their generation: the threat of Hitler. They had liberated -- freed a continent from the grip of a dictator and made this country and the world safe for freedom and for democracy.

 

Out of that great conflict, another threat emerged on the scene: the threat of communism. And out of that period came another individual, Ronald Reagan, a young actor, who determined that communism was the evil of his generation and needed to be fought back; and after fighting that menace on the Korean Peninsula decided that he needed to get into the game and see what he could do to make a difference.

 

And as consequence of his great leadership, we were able to defeat that threat to America without firing a single shot. We won the Cold War thanks to the leadership of a great president named Ronald Reagan.

 

I love the way that President Reagan was able to put in -- to capsulize what is so unique about this country. When he would get up and talk about America, he helped us rediscover what made America unique in all the world.

 

I remember him telling the story about -- during the Cold War -- about the guy that went into the Soviet Union to buy a car. He goes in to the transportation department, says, "I want to buy a car."

 

And the guy at the transportation department says, "Well, you can have your car. You can pick up your black sedan. And you can pick it up 10 years from today."

 

And the guy says, "Will that be in the morning or the afternoon?

 

And the guy at the transportation department says, "Well, what difference does it make? I mean, after all, it's, you know -- for crying out loud, it's 10 years from now."

 

And the guy said, "Well, I got the plumber coming in the morning."

 

But President Reagan had a way of making us appreciate what is so unique and distinct about America, but it is -- it is our freedoms, is those freedoms that are guaranteed in our Constitution. And those freedoms wouldn't be possible without that freedom that's guaranteed in the Second Amendment.

 

You know, I have come up from a tradition of safe firearm usage that was a part of our household. As I said, my father was a combat veteran. And when I was growing up, the time I turned 12 years old, took the hunter safety course and went out that first crisp Saturday morning hunting sharp-tailed grouse in my area of South Dakota, and it was an extraordinary experience.

 

And prior to that, we plinked cans at the city dump. And it's just such a great part of the tradition that I experienced growing up in South Dakota. And it's something that I passed on -- I've got two daughters. I didn't have boys. You know, sometimes you think when you have daughters they're not going to be as engaged in those sorts of things.

 

But it's something that I believe it's a tradition that needs to be passed on. And it's something that I think my daughters need to know, as well, how to be able to protect and defend themselves.

 

And so...

 

We've taken them out, and we've hunted, and we've plinked, and we've done target shooting -- shot clay pigeons with shotguns, and target shooting with handguns.

 

Unfortunately, there are too many people across this country, namely D.C. residents, who don't get that same opportunity.

 

I've always liked the bumper sticker that I've seen frequently that says, "That the Second Amendment makes the rest of the Bill of Rights possible." And I always...

 

I always wanted to attach a caveat to that that says, "Unless you're a resident of the District of Columbia."

 

But that, however, is something that's fixing to be changed. And if the Supreme Court agrees to consider and rule on Parker vs. the District of Columbia, it will be the first extensive consideration of the Supreme Court -- or by the Supreme Court of the Second Amendment since 1939.

 

I don't know about you, but I feel very good about the two new nominees that have gone onto the Supreme Court, Justice -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Judge Alito, and their keen legal judgment, when it comes to ruling on these issues.

 

I don't know how they're going to rule, but I'll tell you one thing: I'd much rather have people like that and their judgment on the Supreme Court than having someone appointed by a liberal president.

 

And it's going to be really important, ladies and gentlemen, because what that tells you, what these judicial appointments all point to is the importance of election. Had it not been for the elections that happened in 2004, those two great judges would not be on the high court.


So the participation of your organization and others across the country who were involved in a grassroots level in making that election possible are what made it possible for those get judges to serve on the court and made it possible for us as a Congress, when I first got to Congress in 2005, to pass legislation that had been spelled out for a very long time to shield gun manufacturers from frivolous lawsuits. That also would not have happened without the participation of people in this room.

 

You know, in the spirit of staying on offense -- and I think you have to stay on offense in this town, because if you don't you're going to be playing defense all the time, and I always believed that the best defense is a good offense -- and so we need to stay on offense.

 

And I've introduced legislation in this Congress that would allow a holder of a concealed weapons permit to be able to carry their weapon anywhere in the country. And I believe...

 

It's very simple, really; works in the same way that a driver's license. When you go to another state, you show your driver's license. This way, owner of a weapon permit could go to another state and be able to show that permit and be able to carry their weapon in that state.

 

And that makes so much sense to me.

 

You think about, you know, some of the debates that we've had here in Washington, D.C., just this last week. I mean, we've actually had a debate in the United States Senate about allowing terrorists to have habeas corpus rights.

 

I mean, think about that. And yet, at the same time, we don't allow law-abiding Americans to be able to defend and protect themselves with this kind of legislation.

 

So, I hope that we can get that passed. We have 25 co- sponsors in the United States Senate. I hope that you will help us add more by pressing upon the delegations from your respective states the importance of this legislation.

 

And, again, as a practical matter, it just makes sense. You look at what's happening in other countries around the world -- Britain, for example, had -- in the last 10 years handgun crime has doubled in a country where they ban and confiscate handguns. You look at violent crime in that country is three times the rate here in the United States.

 

These things are common-sense approaches to dealing with issues of crime, and just as a practical matter consistent with the Second Amendment guarantee that we have in our Constitution that people in this country ought to have the right to defend and protect themselves, to keep and to bear arms.

 

We will continue to fight for that right.

 

But, you know, ladies and gentlemen, that is not a -- it's not a given around here. And it takes the grassroots participation of people across this country.

 

And I know you've been active in those fights. Your organization out here has been active in those fights in the past. But it is important that we stay on offense.

 

And if you don't believe that the other side understands what the stakes are in this debate, just look at the way that they went after and tried to savage a four-star general.

 

I understand that there are a lot of differences of opinion about what's going on in the world today. But I also think in the same way that we faced -- that those in previous generations faced down the threats that they faced, whether it was Nazism or communism, that we have a great threat to our generation of Americans today.

 

And if we want to stay free and if we want to stay strong, we are going to have to have the resolve -- and I hope that this generation of Americans has the resolve that it takes to beat back the threat to the freedoms that we enjoy in this country today. And that is the threat of terrorism that exists -- the global terrorist networks that exist all around the world.

 

And it's an issue that divides this country. But one thing that should not divide this country is the way that we treat our troops and those who are out there day in and day out in a uniform of the United States of America defending us. And that's why I was so offended, as many Americans were, when they went after a four-star general last week.

 

But I'll finish with the point I started with: They understand what the stakes are. They are willing to take those kind of steps and measures to move their agenda forward.

 

We have to be willing, those of us who believe in the values, the principles that are enshrined in our Constitution, like our Second Amendment rights -- to be willing to get out there and work at the grassroots level, to make sure that we put people in office that understand what the stakes are, who are willing to provide strong principled leadership for America's future.

 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why elections matter. And that's why your participation is so important.

 

I am honored and privileged to be able to be with you to hear today to thank you for everything that you do to make those rights and privileges that we enjoy in this country and those freedoms available on an ongoing basis, not only to those who have come before, but to those, like my daughters, who are going to come after.

 

I want to invite you all today to come to the great state of South Dakota to enjoy one of the great pastimes, pheasant hunting. We have a record number of pheasants in South Dakota this year.

 

The highest -- the highest number of pheasants since 1963 in South Dakota, according to the brood counts that have been done earlier this year.

 

It is an extraordinary, extraordinary pastime that we have. It also happens to be a about $150 million contribution to South Dakota's economy.

 

So I have somewhat of a parochial interest in inviting you there.

 

But it really is something that I grew up with and something that I hope that future generations of Americans are able to enjoy, as well. And we hope that you come and visit us soon.

 

Thank you very much for everything you do. May God bless you.

 

May God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you.

 

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