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Remarks by Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) at NRA's "Celebration of American Values" Conference in Washignton, DC -- 9/21/07

Friday, September 21, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

MR. GINGRICH:  Thank you all very much.

I -- first of all, I just want to take a minute to thank Wayne LaPierre, who has given years of his life to defend American constitutional liberties and who has again and again stood up to the elite media, stood up to the left and defended the basic principles in which America was founded -- all of you can be very proud of the job he does in representing you and in fighting for American freedom. 

We're in a period where conservatism is a little confused and Republicans are in some trouble.  When you lose every close U.S. Senate incumbent and you're zero for six in close races in 2006 for Senate incumbents, there's a message.  When you lose the House for the first time in 12 years, there's a message.  The last time Republicans were in trouble and the conservative movement was a little confused, then-Governor Ronald Reagan came to the very first CPAC convention ever held, and he said in February of 1975, "We do not need pale pastels; we need to put our banner of bright colors to draw the distinction between us and the left."

And so I have accepted this offer to come and talk really as a leader, as a citizen.  Recognizing you've spent all day listening to candidates -- and I'm just speaking to you now as somebody who's been active, starting with my father's career in the U.S. Army, growing up as an Army brat and being committed to the survival of this country. And I want to share with you as a historian some basic things that we need to reaffirm with courage in every neighborhood, in every newsroom, in every congressional office and in every level of the United Nations.  And it's pretty straightforward.

One.  As a free people, we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  And what that means is that no politician, no lawyer, no judge, no bureaucrat has the right to come between you and the rights which come directly from God to you, because in America, sovereignty is in the citizen, not in the state.  And we formed the Constitution by loaning power to the government, but the government does not have power over us, except to the degree that we loan it.

That deep, passionate, powerful sense of where our rights come from, which recently -- I wrote a small book called "Rediscovering God in America" to describe -- based on -- right here in Washington.  This is not a theory; you can go to the National Archives, and with your own eyes, you can see the Declaration of Independence, and you can see where the Founding Fathers said this.

Callista and I just finished a DVD that will be out this fall that takes you on a walking tour of Washington.  And you can't avoid, as a matter of historic fact, that that's the base of the American system.  And when they wrote the Constitution, they concluded they hadn't protected individual rights enough.  It's important to understand where the Bill of Rights came from.  The Bill of Rights came because Thomas Jefferson led a movement -- having been a chief author of the Declaration of Independence, he led a movement that said:  this document isn't adequately protecting the citizenship.

The first two amendments they adopted as part of the Bill of Rights --the First Amendment says Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech, which is why the McCain-Feingold bill is fundamentally unconstitutional.  And its consequences are a disaster, because you as a citizen have every right to express yourself about the people who have power in America, and they have no right to pass any law which limits your ability to self-expression on politics.

But the Founding Fathers went a stage further, because they had been students of the English Civil War.  They had looked at dictatorship in England.  They understood the power of tyranny on the part of the state.  And they put in a Second Amendment.  Now, many of our ACLU civil libertarian friends, who claim they love the Bill of Rights, can't quite count -- because they go, "Well, there's the First Amendment, there's the Third Amendment" -- and you try to stop them and say, "Well, what about the Second Amendment?" They go, "Oh, I didn't realize that was in there."

But what does the Second Amendment say?  It says that our defenses, our ability to defend ourselves, our ability to live in an orderly society require that Congress makes no law abridging the right to bear arms.  Now this is not, as President Clinton once said in a confused moment, about duck hunting.  It's not even, as some candidates suggest, about deer hunting.  The right to bear arms is a political right granted at the core of the American system to ensure that the American people have a right of self-protection and that no tyrant can take away their power or can put them in a concentration camp or can kill them without mercy.  It is a political right. 

And by the way, what are the facts?  The facts are, in virtually every jurisdiction which has an orderly right to bear weapons, crime goes down.  And in virtually every jurisdiction which has banned guns -- except for criminals, of course -- crime goes up.

And why does crime go up?  Because to the best of our knowledge and years of research, we have not found a single criminal who on the way to rape a woman, to rob a house, to rob a store, to kill somebody said, "Oh, I can't take a gun with me.  That would be breaking the law." 

And so what happens in places that have banned guns?  If you're innocent, if you are a good citizen, if you obey the law, you are defenseless; but if you're evil, if you're predatory, if you're going to break the law, you are powerful.  And Washington, D.C. is the perfect example because crime went up and violence went up as soon as they banned fire arms, because the innocent obeyed and the evil did not.

Now this core principle, which doesn't mean that any person in this room is in favor of crime -- this is one of the big lies that the left has said.  The effective way you stop crime is you lock up criminals and you have a certainty of punishment so people don't break the law because they know they will be punished.  And in Richmond when that was done, the murder rate dropped 70 percent -- a politically incorrect solution which The New York Times worked overtime to avoid covering. 

When in Philadelphia, as the district attorney pointed out, the judges refused to lock up predators, the murder rate goes up to such a degree that a surgeon, who has been a combat surgeon in Iraq and an emergency room doctor in Philadelphia, wrote a heartrending article about what he called the war here at home.  And it's not a war caused by war; it's a war caused by predators.  It's not a war that can be stopped by blocking the innocent and the decent and the law-abiding; it's a war that can be won by locking up the predators.  Fundamental different analysis of how reality works.

And yet this is not merely an American challenge.  There is a worldwide effort under way by the left to strip innocent, law-abiding citizens of the right to bear arms and to coerce the United States by turning into international law a series of provisions which are a fundamental assault on the core values of the American Constitution and a fundamental assault on the core values of the Founding Fathers. This assault is largely financed by George Soros, who has spent an amazing amount of the money he's spent in -- spent -- he's earned in free society trying to undermine the very freedoms that allowed him to become wealthy.

And none of you should have any question about this.  The United Nations is today a center of a struggle to try to strip from us the right to bear arms by doing it through diplomacy when they know they could never possibly do it inside the United States in a political system in which every effort to take away our rights has been defeated again and again.

And so I think we have -- and the NRA's playing a key role -- a struggle here at home, an educational effort here at home, and a struggle diplomatically overseas.

And I came today to simply say to you that what you're doing is important.  It is important at the most core level.  It is fundamental part of the American constitutional system.  And we have to have the nerve to stand up and take on those who would strip us of our rights, and we have to insist on using facts, and we have to insist on telling the truth about what happens, and we have to put the blame where it is.  And you are doing an important job, and I can assure you that I'm going to do everything I can to work with you to make sure that this is a safer country, where predators are locked up, where your rights are protected, and where we live in peace precisely because we as Americans have gotten our rights from God, and no politician, no judge and no bureaucrat is going to take away the rights that God has endowed us with.

Thank you very much. 

MODERATOR:  Speaker Gingrich, some of our members wrote in a few questions for you today.

You were the leader of the revolution that led to the change in leadership in Congress in 1994.  What role did supporters of the Second Amendment play in that watershed election?

MR. GINGRICH:  Well, one of the major mistakes that the left made in 1993 and '94, in addition to having on the largest tax increases in history, was to decide to try to pass a crime bill which infuriated every person in America who believed in the right to bear arms.

And for me, one of the moments I'll never forget -- in fact, I was with him recently in Erie, Pennsylvania -- was late in the campaign, in October -- I was born in Harrisburg, and we used to have a family cabin up just below State College, and I'm deeply familiar with how beautiful Pennsylvania gets in the late fall.  And late in the year, when I was out campaigning -- and nobody thought we had a chance to win, and I was one of the handful of people who thought you could actually, for the first time in 40 years, create a majority.

And we flew into Erie, Pennsylvania, and we drove out to a county fairground in the middle of nowhere in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, to a rally for Phil English, put on by people who believe in the right to bear arms.  And there must have been seven -- I mean, there was nobody around.  We were driving down these two-lane highways, mile and mile of trees, and suddenly we come up on this fairground, and there are like 700 people in the middle of the afternoon at this fair- -- and they're going wild.  And they have country music.

And Phil English is this very studious, very hardworking guy. And he's standing there surrounded by these people who were so angry at the left that every one of them was going to go out and spend the last two weeks of the campaign just knocking on doors, calling their friends, turning out the vote.

And I looked at that and I turned to Phil and I said, you know, we're going to win this thing.

And I will tell you, if you look around the country, we had -- because of the Contract with America and, to be candid, because people were so angry at the left, we had the largest one-party increase in American history in an off-year election.  We had 9 million additional votes over our 1990 number.  We went from 40 percent to 53 percent in one cycle.

And I would argue that if you look at the rural areas in particular where we swept, and we just picked up state legislators, governors, U.S. senators, House members, I would say that across suburban America and across rural America one of the two or three most decisive things was candidly the organizational ability of the NRA and the passion and the intensity of people who just thought they were not going to lay down and let Washington run over them and let Washington strip them of their rights.  And they were going to fight back the way you fight back in America, and that's at the ballot box.  And that was a key factor in the first victory in 40 years in which our side had a chance to organize the House. 

MODERATOR:  Some have argued that the Second Amendment means different things in different places, that it's okay to have more restrictions on gunowners' rights in New York City or Chicago than in Georgia or Alaska.  Do you agree with this view?

MR. GINGRICH:  I'm not sure exactly who wrote that question or who they might have had in mind. 

Let me say, as an Army brat who has lived over much of America, there are times, it seems, that we're a little different.  If you're down home in Georgia and you listen to folks from New York, you know, they don't quite sound like you.  I told Fred Thompson one of his great advantages was, across the entire South, he was the only guy who sounded like he was home.  And you know, if you're from Southern California and you listen to somebody who speaks with a Boston accent, it seems a little different.

But here's the problem for people who ask the question that you just asked.  We're all Americans.  There's not -- you can't have a Second Amendment to the Constitution for every other state.  If the Second Amendment has any meaning, it has that meaning for 100 percent of America. 

MODERATOR:  How do you see Second Amendment issues impacting the 2008 presidential election?

MR. GINGRICH:  You know, let me be candid.  I don't quite know how it will impact the election next year because folks on the left have become a lot more sensitized.  You know, they're not stupid. They sat down and looked at the '94 election results, and then they looked at other election results.  And they figured out one morning -- you know, you see very few people who jump up and say, "I am a genuine Hollywood, left-wing, take-away-your-guns, raise-your-taxes, build-a- big-bureaucracy, eliminate-the-Defense-Department, make-America-as- weak-as-possible, good old-fashioned left-winger."  I mean, the folks --

I mean, people say that at cocktail parties in Hollywood, and they say it at college campuses among tenured faculty, but in terms of being -- running for office -- you know, they have learned.  You know, what they say instead is -- and this is why I quoted President Clinton, who in one of his -- I think it was one of the State of the Unions -- who began explaining that, you know, it was okay to have guns for duck hunting, but, you know -- and I try -- and I almost got up, and I -- it would have been  inappropriate because, you know, you can't break in on the State of the Union Speech. I mean, it would have been wrong -- but it was tempting. 

It has nothing to do with that.  And so what you've got to be careful about is what's part two?  You know, I'm really for the right to bear arms except for the following list of 739 weapons that I don't think you should have.  I'm really for the right to bear arms, except I think we should sue gun manufacturers so in fact there won't be any guns made, and you won't be able to buy one. Or you know, I think it's all right to have arms, except of course we have to obey the United Nations, and after all, the fact that that means we're going to give every name in this room to people who were last seen in Geneva doing really weird things with Cubans and Venezuelans, I mean -- you know.

So you got to be careful about what are they saying and what's their voting record and what are they really up to.  And I think that -- and this is where I -- again, I said earlier about Wayne, I give him great credit.  I have seen him under enormous pressure.  I've seen him in news media situations where he kept his cool and he just calmly kept coming back to the facts.  And I would just say to all of you, if the left has its way, there will not be an issue next year involving the right to bear arms because they'll know they'll just get beat.

But watch carefully who they would appoint, watch carefully what kind of judges they would appoint, watch carefully who they would send to the U.N. as our ambassador, because there are a hundred ways they can undermine our rights without taking us head-on, and they've learned painfully, starting with Ronald Reagan, that if they take us head-on, the American people will defeat them.  And so they've gotten awfully good at not being who they really are just long enough to get to an election, and that's a key part of what you have to worry about for next year. 

Let me just say this one thing in closing because I know from personal experience -- both in Georgia, in the U.S. Congress and in doing a number of things with the NRA over the years -- that the people who came to this room came here because they believe passionately and deeply in America and because they are deeply committed to their children and their grandchildren having a sound future and a future of freedom.

I want to encourage each of you to go back home with the following message for your friends, for your neighbors, for the people you have coffee with, for the folks you worship with, for the people you work with.

Freedom is always at risk.  There are predatory countries, one of whom has a dictator visiting New York right now, which I think is a terrible mistake on our part.  There are predatory individuals.  There are folks who always believe that they ought to have the right to lead your life for you.  And whether they are a judge or a bureaucrat or a politician, they are prepared to set the rules you should obey, even though God did not give them that authority.

We have for 225 years protected more freedom for more people from more backgrounds than any country in the history of the human race. More than Greece, more than Rome, more than any country in the history of the human race.  And I would urge you -- the next time you get a little tired, the next time you get a little depressed, the next time you get frustrated with the politicians and you wonder, "Why am I doing all this work?" -- go down a few miles from here to Mount Vernon.

Visit their extraordinary new education center and watch a very short film about Christmas Eve 1776, when President -- when General Washington and the Americans had been defeated in Brooklyn, in Manhattan, across New York, across New Jersey, driven by the British, collapsing, ultimately hiding in Pennsylvania, having crossed the river, down to 4,000 effectives and 6,000 men too sick to fight.

And they had a long afternoon meeting.  "What should we do?"  And Washington was blunt.  "If we do not soon win a victory, this army will melt away.  This rebellion will be over and the British will have won.  And tyranny will be established on this continent."

The generals all said to him:  "Oh, it's so difficult.  There's ice in the Delaware.  You're proposing a night crossing at three different places.  You're proposing an army in which many of the men don't have shoes, will march in the cold, in the snow and the ice. You're proposing we're going to meet up at the right moment early in the morning and we're going to surprise the Hessians, the paid, professional soldiers who are occupying the town of Trenton."

And Washington listened to every complaint and every concern and every worry.  And he finally said, "If we do not win, we are already defeated, so we have nothing to risk."

He called the men together.  People forget what a charismatic leader he was and how much they believed in him and how physically big he was and what an extraordinary figure of personal strength he was.

He explained to those men the risk they were running and what was at stake.  And he said to them, "When we cross tonight, the American password will be "Victory or death."

They all looked at him.  They all memorized it.  They crossed an icy river.  They surprised the Hessians.  They captured 800 professional German soldiers.  And two weeks later, Washington's army has tripled in size and the Revolution had been saved.

So the next time one of your friends bellyaches and they tell you how difficult it is and how frustrated they are and how fed up they are and how they don't want to be involved anymore, you look them in the eye; you tell them when they're ready to cross an icy river and march in the snow without shoes, and they're ready to say "Victory or death," then they've earned the right as an American to talk about how bad things are.  But when they're in the richest country in the world and the freest country in the world, with the greatest opportunities God has ever given anyone, then their job is just to get up and go change it.  And if you don't like Washington, fix it.  And if you don't like Albany or Sacramento, fix it.  And if you think it's hard to fix, it was a lot harder being a soldier for George Washington.

Thank you.  Good luck and God bless you. 

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