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Remarks by Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) at NRA's "Celebration of American Values" Conference in Washington, DC --9/21/07

Friday, September 21, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

DINGELL: Thank you, my friend Chris Cox, and thank you all my friends. I'm delighted to be here today. And I want to say thank you for your kind welcome. And I want to thank my special friend Chris Cox for his gracious introduction. And I want to say thanks to Wayne LaPierre, an old friend with whom we've worked for many years on many things, and John Sigler, the president, and your other officers, Ron Schmeits and David Keene and Wilson Phillips and Jim Land. They serve you well, and I'm proud to be with you and with them.


I also want to thank all the board of directors who worked so hard to keep this great organization running. It's great to be back with you today.


I had the privilege of being a member of the board in times past. I want to say that was one of the rewarding experiences that I have enjoyed in my life.


And I want to say that I hear that we are talking about mainstream values, and so are others. And I'm here to agree with you that we in the NRA best exemplify the mainstream values of this country.


We believe in conservation.


We believe in hunting and fishing and enjoying the outdoors. We're patriots. We serve our country in time of war. And we protect the great constitutional rights, all of them, including and especially the Second Amendment.


I want to tell you that we are a success and you are a success because of what it is you do and what you have done. I want to say that this is a very effective organization because of the ideal, the loyalty and dedication of its membership and because of the extraordinary leadership that we have from people like Chris Cox and Wayne LaPierre and the other officers and the sacrifices that you and they make collectively to see to it that our fundamental rights as free Americans are protected.


My old friend Harlan Carter understood this. And I remember the night when I was on the board that we put together ILA. There was quite a fight over that. It was followed by a lot of other fights about what would be the placement and what would be the duty of ILA, and what it would do in terms of providing the leadership which we had to have in terms of protecting ourselves during some rather dark days, when firearms ownerships and basic rights were very much under attack.


Well, I'm pleased to say that those matters have been resolved favorably. You will recall that there were some interesting events which took place in Cincinnati. I showed up at that convention in the evening, and Michael Parker, who was then on the -- on the staff of NRA, met me. And he said, "Well, John," he said, "I have good news for you and bad news."


I said, "What's the good news?"

"The good news is the issue is solved. We cut them all off at the ankle." And I said, "Well, what's the bad news?"


He said, "Well, there ain't nothing to do."


I said, "Well, that's just fine."


But we found out that, as in all other things, when you make these kinds of strides forward, there are yet things to be done. The placement of NRA, the placement of ILA in NRA, and the things that were to be done there have still required some fine-tuning as events have gone forward.


But we have in this, the leadership in the organization that's needed here so the NRA can be a truly effective organization.


I can remember the days when a wonderful guy by the name of Frank Orth another wonderful guy by the name of Clinton M. Hester, who was the general counsel then to NRA, would work together to see to it that we headed off gun control legislation.


And effectively those two, my beloved friend Alan Cores, Mark Parkville and I, and Bob Sykes, and my friend Cecil King, and John Saylor, in the House, were those who sought to it that there was no gun legislation that came through.


But we found that the forces and events of time exceeded our abilities to address these things. And we needed to do some of the things that smart industry and smart labor and smart American organizations do. And that we had to have a combination of citizen action, fund-raising, expenditures, lobbying and public relation activities of a kind and character that would, in fact, cause us to do the things that needed to be done, in the way that they had to be done, and in a way which was effective.


That was ILA. And thank God they're there, and thank God that the NRA are there too.


I want to say that it is no accident that our founding fathers included our right to keep and bear arms in the Second Amendment. These are physical manifestations of the rights and liberties which were guaranteed to us by the Constitution. And vigilance in defense of the Second Amendment keeps us vigilant and vigorous in the defense of all the other freedoms that we're guaranteed as Americans.


And I want to tell you that I take no shame in being in the company of those who had these same feelings.


I also want to say that I take great pride in my membership of the NRA, and I look back with pleasure on the fact that I got this from my dad, who was one of the defenders of our rights in the Congress, when I got out of the Army in 1945.


And with that, interestingly, I got from the old Department of Defense, a 1917 Enfield, which I still hunt deer and elk and woodchuck and antelope with.


In any event, I'm happy to be here with those of you, like I, smell of Hoppe's #9, because I find that more comfortable than I do those who smell of Chanel #5, although they have great charm, too.


In any event, as we look about us, we can see certain things.

We can see that the climate in Washington and around the country has changed. But you must understand that change and that climate tend to be very, very fickle, and you can anticipate that events could change agin us -- again against us. And if you talk to the geologists, they'll tell you there's only one thing in this world that doesn't change, and that's change.


In any event, thanks to the hard work that you have shown and the leadership of ILA and NRA, the climate has changed here in Washington.


I'm particularly pleased to follow an old friend by the name of Bill Richardson, former colleague in the House, and I'm pleased to note that he is showing that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and members of the governors can be strong supporters of the Second Amendment rights and the privileges of all of us as Americans without any shame or fear. And he's not the only Democrat who is...


And he's not the only Democrat who is running for president who supports the Second Amendment. And I think it is a fair statement that we want a situation where Democrats and Republicans running for president are in line with the NRA. And I'm pleased to say there are some of them in the Democratic Party who are more aligned with the NRA than Republican candidates. Unfortunately, there are some who are not.


But I would tell you this: That change has in good part come about because you in the NRA have made this business of supporting the Second Amendment, of hunting and fishing and enjoying the out of doors, and of protecting a basic right of Americans a respectable, a proper and a good thing to do, and one which will leave us in the position of leaving to our inheritors not just freedoms, but the freedoms to enjoy and to defend those freedoms.


And it is my hope that our efforts and your efforts will leave as in a situation in 2008, when the candidates for president have been selected, that both the Democratic and the Republican president will believe, as Thomas Jefferson did, that no free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.


For this to happen, I think it is important then that the NRA do give the candidates, all of them, a fair screening. Let's hear what they have to say, let's hear what they stand for.


And let's understand that the NRA, if it is to have the strength which it must have, may not be an organization which strays from its basic purpose: the protection of our right to hunt and to own and to enjoy and to use firearms for legitimate sporting and defense purposes.


And that is no rhetoric. That is something for which we exist. And it is probably the greatest and perhaps the only real reason for us being who we are and what we are and for our pride in what it is we do.


I would tell you that I have, as some of you probably in this room do, some memories of some dark days within this association, when the leadership wanted to move the organization to Colorado, when they wanted to get it out of the nasty and the unsatisfying business and the dirty business of having to fight the bad anti-gun legislation.


Well, as I mentioned, at Cincinnati, that changed.

But it is fair to remember that our basic purpose and our basic effectiveness resides in the fact that we are protectors of a very important, enunciated constitutional right whose purpose is to assure that we not only are free, but that we have the means to protect and to defend that freedom; something which we have participated in in every war in which this country has participated as an organization since the Civil War, when the NRA was first created.


I think that as we go about this business, we have to understand that not only do we have to be fair on the way we address candidates and their importuning of what it is we should do with regard to their candidates -- their candidacy, their hopes and their expectation, but it is also important that we do something else; that we understand that we have not just a right to protect or a duty to protect that right, but we have something more.


And that is a duty to be affirmative in seeing to it that the necessary steps are taken to assure that the laws of this country are of such character that, first, they can't be used against us but, second of all, their weakness and their inability to address the concerns of the American people, with regard to their personal security, are also not used against it.


Terrible events have occurred from time to time. You'll recall Columbine. Well, with the help and the vigorous effort of NRA and your wonderful ILA and my dear friends in your leadership and in our leadership, we saw that we were able to prevent legislation from passing then which would in fact cause hideous problems to legitimate sportsmen, hunters and outdoorsman.


It is also true that we have had to confront a similar event at Virginia Tech. I'm told that now we are hearing about something at the University of Delaware, whose particular bounds have not been defined to us.


But the fact that we have been able to head off good legislation in this has been in good part because of the extraordinary leadership of the NRA, ILA and the membership of this organization.


It is of interest to note, we have been able, in an interesting exercise -- something which is about as rare as finding feathers on a fish -- to get ourselves into a position where pro-gun and anti-gun were able to work together to address a problem which related to the ownership of firearms by mentally defectives, and to see to it that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in fact do work.


The legislation passed the House unanimously. The legislation, we hope, will shortly be before the Senate.


Why do I mention this?


Because, if we are going to defend our rights, we have to see to it that the concerns of others are legitimately addressed. And one of the good things about ILA and the leadership of NRA is they recognize that fact, sometimes with a little bit of discomfort from people outside of the organization, who might have some different purpose than mine -- and I'm not talking about anti-gunners. I'm talking about some who profess to be friends of shooters and hunters.


In any event, we have seen ourselves, now, in a position where the NRA has actively supported seeing to it that the background check law in fact does work, and that the Congress will act to see to it that that is taken care of, and that the states will have the resources, the abilities and the willingness and the encouragement of the federal government to see to it that this matter of properly recording those who should be denied the right because of mental illness to own firearms are in fact excluded from that ownership.


But it's interesting to note that the remarkable leadership of NRA has seen to it that not only did we address those concerns and in a proper way, but also that the NRA saw to it that we protected with assiduous and great care the concerns of persons not owning firearms because of the fact that they had been improperly excluded from such ownership through the NIC system.


And that this legislation will go a long way to correcting that, so that honest men and women will not be denied the right for firearm ownership because of some frivolous or inadequate piece of effort by some state or federal agency, while at the same time assuring those not justified in having those firearms rights are also not permitted to pose themselves as a risk to other law-abiding citizens.


It is interesting to note that in the Senate and in the House, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and on both sides of this issue have worked together. And I am particularly pleased.


I have heard some criticisms of this, and I took the trouble to look up to see what a great hero of mine had to say on this. He was criticized for having worked with Joe Stalin in World War II. I'm talking about Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


His comment was, "In times of great stress, it is permissible to walk side by side with the Devil to get to the other side of the bridge."


And having said that, I hope that we will keep in mind that that is one of the things that confronts us and we will work with our leadership in questions of this kind.


I want to say I'm proud to be with you today. I am proud of what you do. I am very proud and very grateful for your support of NRA, a great organization -- a great patriotic organization and a great civil rights organization, and also a great sporting organization.


It's an organization that, like a lot of deaf, old shooters, I take great pleasure in associating with and in recalling great days, great times and great hunts and great trips into the backcountry and great shoots.


I want to tell you that I am thankful to NRA for what it is you have done. And I want to tell you that one of the most selfish, and shamelessly so, things that I do is protecting my rights to own firearms, and yours, and that of my sons and daughters, who are also shooters.


And I want to tell you that I am thankful that as events go forward and when the time comes again, as I'm certain it will, that NRA will continue to be out there, educating people, talking about the rights of Americans, defending our rights to own firearms and to shoot and to use them for legitimate sporting and defense purposes.


And when the time comes that we have trouble, either in Washington or in state capitals or in legislatures around the country, or as we go forward to try and clean up this miserable D.C. gun law, in which the NRA has provided such extraordinary leadership, that the NRA will not just be on my side, but will be out in front. They'll be educating the public, raising alerts, raising money, providing leadership and defending the Constitution.


It's been a pleasure and a privilege to be with you all. Thank you very much.

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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.