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Remarks by Former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) at NRA's "Celebration of American Values" Conference in Washington, DC -- 9/21/07

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

MR. HUCKABEE:  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you.

First of all, let me explain my appearance.  I'm not trying to be cool by wearing the jeans and the boots, nor am I trying to say, "Hey, I'm one of you."  I've been on Delta Airlines today -- which today stands for:  Didn't Even Leave The Airport. My luggage is somewhere, I don't know where --  and neither does Delta.  And I barely made it here -- a cancelled flight and then a rearranged one that became late, and then in the very back of the plane I think that the only thing behind me was perhaps the lavatory.  And so everyone else was casually getting off, and I was saying, "I've got to get to the NRA," and I was hoping that Rosie O'Donnell was not sitting in front of me. Obviously, she is not here today.  

But anyway, I do apologize that I've not been able to dress a little better for the occasion.  I feel looking out here with all these suits and ties about as appropriately dressed as George Soros might feel at the American Legion Convention -- so I want to say I will hope to make a return engagement to the NRA and dress a little more for the occasion.

I also want to say what an honor it is to be here with fellow NRA members, and I didn't just join last year.

I've been a part of the organization for a while and not only am I a member, but my wife is as well, and you don't really have to worry about me, but you really do need to watch out for her.    She is far more dangerous, I'm pretty sure.

Being here today is a thrill and an honor, and I'm looking forward to visiting with you about one of the most important and special gifts that our Founding Fathers gave us, and that's the Second Amendment.  I sometimes marvel that there are people in our country who will proliferously defend the importance, the primacy and the value of the First Amendment -- our freedoms to speak, to assemble, to worship, the freedom of the press -- and somehow act as if the Second Amendment is of lesser importance to our freedom than the first.  I happen to be one of those people who believe that just as important as is the First Amendment so is the Second, and today, I would like to visit with you as to why I think that is so important.

And I want to begin by saying that sometimes we get to these forums -- and numerous candidates are going to come to this podium and speak, and I don't think any of them are going to come here and tell you that are for gun control or that they are somehow against the Second Amendment.  I mean, that just wouldn't be a very smart thing to do, not in this crowd.  But the real question is:  Can you believe them?  And for that matter, can you believe me?  And the reality is that you look at past behavior to get a pretty good sense of the credibility of present speech and the likelihood of future behavior.

As a governor, as Wayne has said, I've signed numerous laws that helped protect Second Amendment rights; signing a law that prohibited frivolous lawsuits against gun makers, which I think is a ridiculous way to try to exact money out of people who are not responsible for the acts of criminals.  I also opposed Brady, and I call it the so- called assault weapons ban because most people who talk about assault weapons have not a clue of which they speak.  In fact, I was in an interview with a group of reporters a few months ago, and someone said, I don't think anybody needs -- she said an automatic weapon for hunting.

I said, probably they don't, but I know a lot of us really enjoy using a semi-automatic weapon for hunting.  And she looked at me.  She says, what's the difference?  And I wanted to say, several digits of an IQ.  But I didn't.

One of the things that most importantly has to be remembered is that when asked about Second Amendment, often you'll hear candidates start talking about, well, I'm a hunter.  And they immediately go into telling about the last time they went hunting, even if it was 50 years ago.  And that's fine.  I'm always happy to hear it.  But when a person, when asked about the Second Amendment, begins to tell me about his or her hunting license, the first thing they just told me is they have not a clue; they do not understand the essence of the Second Amendment.

Now, I love to hunt.  I'm a duck hunter first and foremost, because I do live in Arkansas.  And anyone's going to hunt in that state and doesn't duck hunt, I appreciate them, because that's just more for me.  I'm very grateful.

I like to turkey hunt.  Ran into Rob Keck at the Columbia, South Carolina, airport this morning as he was leaving to go deer hunting, and I'm leaving to go make a speech.  Life isn't fair. 

And Rob and Forrest Wood, who's the CEO and founder of Ranger Boats -- the three of us were a team last year for the National Wild Turkey Federation in the One Shot Lander Antelope Hunt in Lander, Wyoming.  And if you've ever heard of that, it's a marvelous event where teams of three compete against eight other teams.  And you only get one shot.  And the team who has the most score, which means that all three of your members have to get an antelope, and then it's based on everything from the distance, and you have judges out there with you and a whole host of things.  I just wanted to hurry up and get to the part where I tell you that our team won, because we were the only team where all three of us got our antelope. 

And that day, Rob actually got the largest antelope of the day. Mine was a little later in the day, and frankly the shot was one that was sort of a desperation shot.  It turned out that it was a September day -- eight inches of snow in about four hours.  We don't see snow in Arkansas -- maybe once in a year, and it's maybe in January.  We darn sure don't see any in September, and I sure wasn't expecting any when I went up to Wyoming last year.

So I really wasn't prepared for freezing-cold, 30-degree crosswinds and several inches of snow.  And we stalked antelope all morning long and never got really close to one to get a shot.  And finally, at about 12:30 in the afternoon, there was one across a ridge -- I'm not making this up -- the trajectory was upward, it is across, up on a hill.  And it looked pretty decent, but it was about 250 yards away.  Now, that's just, on my best day, within my range, maybe.  But with a stiff wind, snow -- and one of the rules of the One-Shot Antelope Hunt is that you cannot use any artificial devices; you can't lean on, you know, a car or the hood of a truck or anything other your own body.  And so that kind of complicates the process and makes it a little more challenging.

But it was one of those moments where I finally decided:  "You know, we only get one shot.  If you miss, your hunt is over.  If you hit, and you take the animal, then your hunt your is over as well." And I decided that one way or the other, this hunt is about to be over, because I can't stand any more of this cold.   And somehow, by the grace of God, when I squeezed the trigger, my Weatherby .300 Mag, which has got to be the greatest gun, I think, ever made in the form of a rifle -- for my sake in hunting, I've never squeezed the trigger and not gotten something -- did its work, and somehow the angels took that bullet and went right to the antelope, and my hunt was over in a wonderful way.

So then I called Forrest Wood and I said:  "Forrest, I just want you to know, we're the only team in the running.  Every other team has reported in except you.  And if you get an antelope, we win the whole thing.  If you don't, we compete for the other teams who only have two of their three members who get one.  Don't feel any pressure.  But don't you dare come back without the antelope." 

All that's to say:  Look, I'm a hunter.  But that's not what the Second Amendment is about.  It certainly gives us a guarantee of the capacity to own those firearms that we use in hunting.  But let me describe what I believe the Second Amendment is and why it's important.

First of all, it protects our families.  We have a constitutional right granted to us, in the wisdom of our forefathers, to protect our families, to protect them from criminals, to protect them from whatever might harm them.  And it is as much of a constitutional right as it is the right to speak out against our government.

And let me be very clear:  I do not believe the Second Amendment has any geographical boundaries.  It does not apply differently on the East Coast than it does in the South.

There should be no sense in which people believe that there can be a different set of gun laws that somehow control the Second Amendment in urban areas than in rural areas.  If that were the case, the Founding Fathers would have put some type of restrictive language in the Second Amendment, which they did not.  That's why I support the Castle Doctrine and believe that it ought to reign true, where people have a right to protect themselves, and that they shouldn't have to prove that they were protecting themselves when in fact they were defending their own property and their own families.

I believe that in protecting our families, we have a right to those opportunities for protection.  That's why in our state, like so many, we have a concealed-carry law.  As far as I know, I was the first sitting governor in America to complete the course and to get a concealed-carry permit, and I've told some hostile crowds -- be careful, don't mess with me. 

It's also important to realize that we've recently seen an assault on the Second Amendment in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and I'm speaking of Katrina.  It was an outrageous assault by the police when they began to take the firearms away from law- abiding citizens, frankly, who were themselves their only defense against criminals and once again a reminder of the importance of the Second Amendment, because sometimes, one cannot wait on another, in particularly government, to come and to protect one's home and one's life.

The Second Amendment is also about preserving our freedom. Again, I think sometimes people think it's all about hunting, but it's really about our freedom.  It is the last goal line, the last bastion of defense against even our own government, should it go completely awry and turn into tyranny.  And I know that sounds a little radical in this day and time, and some people don't understand it, but if they really would think through it, they would realize that an unarmed citizenry is a citizenry that has no capacity against even its own government, should its government forget what it's supposed to do.

I also believe that that means that our laws should always be under the aegis of the United States Constitution, and we should never, ever even contemplate having Americans under some type of international law influenced by or even tolerate judges who would try to interpret our Second Amendment in light of some international law designed by the U.N. or carried out by others. 

Thank you.

The Second Amendment also does something that's kind of important to some of us.  It can provide not maybe all but some of our food.  I know different people hunt for different reasons.  Many people hunt strictly for trophies.  Quite frankly, I'm more of the meat hunter than I am the trophy hunter.  We try to keep venison in our freezer because I like it and it's good.  So if the choice is between waiting and waiting and waiting and going after some trophy or putting something in the freezer -- I know this will be an anathema to some of you, but I go for the freezer; I'll let you put something on the wall. I just -- just the way I was brought up, in part because, as a kid growing up, hunting was a way of life.  It was a way of culture in south Arkansas, where I came from.

By the way, for those of you that may not know, I was born and raised in a little town called Hope, Arkansas.  I just wanted to let you know that not everybody coming from Hope, Arkansas, has a problem with the Second Amendment.  Some of us grew up believing it's a wonderful and great thing. 

I grew up in a household where my father was a fireman for the City of Hope.  He worked on his days off as a mechanic, rebuilding car generators.  There was never a day in my dad's life when he didn't have the work of the day still on his hands.  I tell people the best way to describe my childhood is that the only soap that we had in our house when I was kid was Lava soap.    Some of you can understand that.  And what that really means is that I was in college before I found out that it's not supposed to hurt when you take a shower. 

Today people pay a couple of hundred bucks for an exfoliation. Fifty cents will get you a bar of Lava, and it'll do the same thing. 

But hunting, for many of us who grew up with it, is also about teaching safety and teaching the basic understandings of sportsmanship, as well as the rules and the value of conservation.

It's always of interest to me when who have never held a firearm in their lives or owned one seem to have such an amazing insight into how the rest of us should handle them, more importantly, as to the nuances of them, or the value; when the fact is, if it weren't for those of us who buy the hunting licenses, those of us who actually own firearms, those of us who enjoy the outdoors, there wouldn't be enough money to preserve the wildlife.

And if it weren't for the harvest of many of the species of wildlife, there wouldn't be enough habitat to sustain the species, and we would be looking at something far more endangered than our gun rights; it would be the many species that many of us love not just to go out and hunt, but to watch in their natural habitat, which sometimes is one of the greatest experiences in the world.  To watch mallards come in a flock, cut their wings and land but a few feet in front of you on a cold winter day near Stuttgart, Arkansas, is just about as close to heaven as I think one can get on this Earth.  And as one who believes, because of my faith, that I'm going to Heaven, I'm pretty sure there will be duck hunting in Heaven, and I can't wait. 

Let me also mention that I think the Second Amendment has another -- role, and that is that it's a way that we pass on our firearms. And when I say pass on our firearms, I really mean it in the sense that for many of us, one of the greatest treasures we have is not the firearm, it's the memories that go with it.  Not many people who own firearms decided at age 40 or 50 to go out and purchase one, particularly if it's for sport or for hunting.  It relates back to the memories of a childhood where typically a father would take his son hunting and teach him the rules of the use of that firearm, but also teach him the basic understanding of conservation and the way of the wild.

Many of us have guns in our gun safes that don't have great monetary value.  I've got an old 20-gauge shotgun that has rust on the barrel.  If I took it to a pawn shop, I'd be lucky to get 10 bucks out of it.  But you couldn't buy that gun from me for a million dollars. Well, come to think of it, for a million dollars, I'll let you have it.  But it would take almost that much, because while that gun has no particular significant monetary value and probably wouldn't get a shell all the way through the barrel anymore, it's a gun that my dad owned and gave to me.  And every time I see it in that gun safe, though I don't use it to hunt, I think about not only him, but I think about times that he and I were together.  And those are memories that, even though he's been gone for 11 years, those memories will last with me for the rest of my life.

I'll pass my own guns on to my kids, and I hope that they can have some of the pleasant memories with times that we've had just as I do.  And I say that because in many families there are certain heirlooms that give one a great sense of personhood and identity.  I can't think of a father saying, "Son, when I die, I'm going to leave you a Play Station" -- although I'm sure some kids would say, "Dad, I hope you do."  No, it's the experiences that come that is also a part of the great heritage that we have in this country that I wouldn't want to lose for anything in the world.

A few minutes ago I understand you had a remarkable young man who came and spoke to you.  I had a chance to meet him.  I've already heard several people tell me about his magnificent speech.  I wish I'd been here to hear it.

If Delta had been a little more cooperative, I probably would have. But when I met him, I was reminded again that freedoms are ours not because we did something great for them, but because young men like that did and have kept them for us.  I want us to keep all of our freedoms, and I also never want us to forget how we got them and how we've preserved them.

I have a school teacher friend in Little Rock, Arkansas.  She's a teacher at the Joe T. Robinson High School.  Her name is Martha Cothren. Martha and I are the same age, and we've been friends a long time.  And she told me about something she did two years ago when school started in 2005.  Martha's a real active member of the American Legion Auxiliary and very patriotic lady very concerned that a lot of her high school students really didn't understand much about our freedom and how we got it.

So Martha, on the first day of school with the permission of the school principal, took all of the desks out of her classroom, every last one of them.  So the kids walk in first period and the room's empty, and they walk in and they say, "Ms. Cothren, where's our desks?"  And she said, "You don't get a desk until you tell me how you earn it."  And some of the kids said, "I guess we have to make good grades," and she said, "Well, I expect you to make good grades, but that's not how you get a desk."  Some of them said, "You want us to behave."  She said, "Oh, you will behave in here" -- "but that's not going to get you a desk."

So they sit on the floor or stand against the wall through the entire period, and second period comes, same thing, third period.  By lunch, kids had gotten on their cell phones and called their parents and said, "Ms. Cothren has lost her mind.  She won't let us have a desk."  Shortly after noon, all four of the local network television affiliates had news crews out at Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock to find out what happened to this teacher who apparently had gone off her rocker and had taken all of the desks out of the classroom.

The last period of the day, when no one had figured out how to get a desk, Martha Cothren stood before her six period class, and she said, "Well, it doesn't look anyone's going to figure it out on their own, so I'm going to go ahead and let you in on how you get a desk." She walked over to the door of her classroom, opened the door, and when she did in walked 27 veterans, every one of them carrying a school desk.  And they walked in and they put those desks up in rows in her classroom, and as they were putting the desks up, Martha Cothren said, "Kids you don't have to earn your desk after all because these guys they already did, and what they did for you was to give you the opportunity to sit in this classroom.  And we're not going to charge you a dime for the education you're getting, and you don't have to buy your books; you don't have to pay for the desk you sit in because these guys and some of their friends who didn't even come back, they paid a price that you couldn't afford."

And she said, "I just want you to remember that when you sit here in this classroom and you enjoy the education, just remember that while it may not cost you anything today, it cost these guys more than you'll ever be able to calculate."  Martha said she asked those kids to write essays on what they learned, and what those kids said to her, she'll never forget as long as she lives.

I hope we never forget that our freedoms came at a very high price. And I know some of you in this room helped provide those freedoms, and including in those -- included in those freedoms are the freedoms we have under the Second Amendment of our Constitution.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is far beyond just some political issue that becomes fodder for the campaign; this is a fundamental, foundational issue as to whether or not generations in the future will be able to enjoy the same freedoms that we have.  Somebody's paid a high price for us to have those freedoms, and we better make sure that future generations get to enjoy them as we have.

Thank you very much for letting me have this opportunity to visit you.  God bless you. 

MODERATOR:  Governor, we have a few questions for you.

MR. HUCKABEE:  All right.

MODERATOR:  Do you believe that waiting periods on handgun purchases helps alleviate these crimes?

MR. HUCKABEE:  The question is waiting periods -- no, I don't believe that that's an effective way.  Instant background checks is a far more effective way.  But waiting periods only inconvenience people like me, that when I go shopping, I don't want to be inconvenienced; I want what I want, and I'd like it now. 

MODERATOR:  Question two:  President Bush has ordered all federal agencies to maximize hunting opportunities on federal land.  If elected president, how would you advance this policy?

MR. HUCKABEE:  Well, it's an important part of managing the wildlife.  And, frankly, it's critical for the preservation of species and also for the preservation of the great traditions of hunting.

In my state, hunting and fishing licenses are fairly stable, but in most states, there's been dramatic declines in the number of hunting and fishing licenses, in part because there are fewer and fewer public lands for people to enjoy.  And that is a real concern to people like me, because I said as governor, I never want hunting and fishing to become the exclusive domain of only the extraordinarily affluent and that it would deny kids who grew up like I did the opportunity to grow up hunting and fishing.

One of the first things I worked for as a governor was dedicating one-eighth of a penny in sales tax for conservation in our state.  So we have in our constitution a dedicated stream of funds, 45 percent of which goes to our Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, 45 percent to our state parks for the maintenance and the preservation of parks and lands, and then another 9 percent to our Department of Heritage and 1 percent to Keep Arkansas Beautiful, all of which is dedicated to conversation.  But it's allowed us the opportunity to enhance the number of wildlife officers, to improve the number of fisheries and habitats that we have.  We have spent enormous amounts of money in buying lands to make sure that they would forever be preserved for the public and not bought up by a handful of people who would make it more and more difficult.

Our goal was that every kid in Arkansas would be within a bicycle ride of a fishing hole, and every kid would be able to access adequate hunting lands.  Because if we don't do that, the great traditions that, frankly, are so important to many of us and has given us a great heritage in this country would be lost forever. 

MODERATOR:  The United Nations continues to push restrictions on the civilian ownership of firearms.  If elected president, how would you continue to oppose those efforts, as the current administration has done?

MR. HUCKABEE:  Well, I'm grateful the current administration has opposed those efforts.  And as I said earlier, we should never, ever think that we have any obligation to succumb to the pressures of any law other than our own Constitution and the statutes that we ourselves pass.  And frankly, if the United Nations continues to come at us with such outrageous things, then we should not be too disappointed if the whole thing were to break off and float away in the East River, never to be seen or heard from again. 

MODERATOR:  Final question.  Some have argued that the Second Amendment means different things in different places, that it's okay for New York City or Chicago to impose more restrictions on gun owners' rights than Arkansas or Wyoming.  Do you agree with that?

MR. HUCKABEE:  Obviously, I do not agree with that.  Again, there are no geographical boundaries or restrictions in the text of the Second Amendment.  It means what it says, it says what it means, and that should stand.  And no judge should ever be able to somehow create language that is not in the Constitution.  And I think it's not only unconstitutional, but it is absurd on its face that some rights would be more of a right in certain locations but you would step across a boundary and somehow those rights would be lost because of the city or the state in which you suddenly stepped.

Can you imagine if we said that as it related the freedom of the press?  In other words, the press would be free to write whatever they wanted unless they wrote something very bad about me, and then it was -- because I was in their presence, they wouldn't be able to write it. Come to think of it, that's a heck of a good law; I think we should pass it.  Obviously, you're laughing because you know that would never work.

Well, by the same token, it's equally absurd and laughable that we would have geographical boundaries on the tenets of the Second Amendment.

So, clearly we should not do that.  I would never want to be a part of it.  And I think that people who advocate it simply just have not done their homework on the Second Amendment.  And maybe something simple could fix it -- a class in 9th grade civics.

Thank you very much.  It's been a pleasure to be here.  Thank you. 

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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.