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Remarks by Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at NRA's "Celebration of American Values" Conference in Washington, DC -- 9/21/07

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

MR. GIULIANI:  Thank you very much, Wayne.  It's nice to be here in England.  Oh, America.  Sometimes on a presidential campaign you got to be reminded of exactly where you are, but it's really, really exciting.  It's exciting to go all over the country, and then it was very exciting to see Margaret Thatcher, who's one of my heroes, in England.

And it's a great pleasure to be here.  I thank you, Wayne, for your introduction.  Thank you, Chris, for inviting me, and thanks to all the dedicated members who are here for the NRA Celebration of American Values.  And I'm very happy to be here in front of the NRA, also, because there are a lot of things that you and I have in common. There are probably a few things we disagree about, but there are many more things that we have in common.

I ask people to take a look at our 12 commitments that we've made to the American people.  Take a good look at them.  If you agree with most of them -- I don't expect you to agree with all of them; nobody ever does agree with every single thing about a candidate.  I was a very big supporter of and I worked for Ronald Reagan, and I remember his 80 percent -- my 80 percent friend is now my 20 percent enemy. And if you look at these and you agree with most of these, then I would ask you to support me.  If you disagree with most of these, I would ask you to vote against me because I'm actually going to do them.  I'm actually going to get it accomplished because that's really been my record, has been a record of getting results and doing the things that I promised to do -- not every single one of them, but most of them.

And I believe there are several very important things that we have in common:  a commitment to keeping America strong and secure; a commitment to preserving and protecting the Constitution of the United States the way it's written and based on what it means, not based on somebody's social agenda or political biases or prejudices, left, right, middle, in between -- it's about what somebody else wrote and what they meant it to mean, and a judge is an interpreter of the law, not a creator of the law; and a commitment to protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens; and a real commitment to putting criminals in prison, which is where they belong and where they can't do damage to the rest of society.

I believe that public safety is the most fundamental right that people have, and I believe that that is one of the social values that we have, which is reducing crime and having a safe society.  Because, after all, if you don't have a reasonable degree of safety, you can't exercise your other rights:  the right of free speech, the right to select the people that govern you, the right to be secure in your home against unreasonable searches and seizures, even your right to bear arms is all based on a reasonable degree of safety that you have to have.

I worked for Ronald Reagan as associate attorney general.  I remember his motto of peace through strength.  I believe in that as kind of a foundation for foreign policy, and I believe in that as part of a foundation for domestic policy.

I was in Mississippi earlier with -- I think your prior speaker was Haley Barbour.  Is that right?  I was in Mississippi with Governor Barbour, who's a good friend of mine, and he reminded me of something. I don't know if he reminded you of it.  But he -- all this question about socially conservative values -- he said to me that probably the single most important socially conservative value is crime control and public safety.

So I think it -- I believe -- and I'm sure you do -- that law enforcement should focus on enforcing the laws that exist on the books, as opposed to just passing new laws or new extension of laws.  I found, as United States attorney, and then later as the mayor, that in most cases the failures were in enforcing the laws that presently existed, and the more effectively we enforced those laws, the more we were able to bring down crime.

We also believe in protecting the rights of every law-abiding citizen, and we believe in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. And we believe in putting criminals behind bars when they commit crimes with guns or in any other way.  And that's part of the philosophy -- that's part of the philosophy I used in New York City to take a city that was the crime capital of America and make into the safest large city in the country.

Now -- when I became mayor of New York City, New York City was averaging about 2,000 murders a year.  That was something like five, six, seven, eight murders a day sometimes; 11,000 major crimes a week.  We were overwhelmed with crime.  We were on the front cover of Time magazine as "The Rotting of the Big Apple." That's the way we were featured on the front cover of Time magazine.

And I remember making a trip to London, like a trip I made a couple of days ago, and I was giving a lecture in London to a group of lawyers about securities law.  After half the audience fell asleep, I asked them for questions.  And the second or third man put up his hand, and he said to me: "I just got this brochure from my travel agent, because I'm traveling to New York next week.  And it's 10 tips on how not to be the victim of a crime in New York City."  And I said, "Boy, this is really encouraging.  This is going to encourage a lot of people to come to New York."

And do you know what the final tip was, number 10?  Don't make eye contact.  Can you imagine being told, as an encouragement to come to a city, don't look at the people there, because if you do, you might provoke a crime?

And why did we have that kind of situation in New York?  Why was it the crime capital of America?  Why was crime out of control?  Why were murders out of control?  Why were people being told not to make eye contact?  And why did Time magazine have us on the front cover of Time magazine as the rotting of the Big Apple?

Partially because of the policy choices that were made, the left wing policy choices that were made over a long period of time.  For 30 years, because they -- it isn't that they didn't try to reduce crime. Why did they not succeed in reducing crime?  Because of their excessive adherence to their left wing ideology, where the only thing you don't do is blame criminals for the crime that they committed. You blame everybody else and everything else, and you point the finger of responsibility at parents, schools, other institutions, guns, anything else that you can find.

The major change that we made was we said, everything else can contribute to crime, but what actually causes crime?  People, their behavior, their unwillingness to discipline themselves, their unwillingness of society to discipline them.  So we tried a different approach,  We tried the approach of first and foremost holding people accountable for the crimes that they commit. 

And the results speak for themselves.  We cut murder by 66 percent; we cut shootings by 74 percent.  And we transformed New York City from the crime capital of America into the safest large city in the United States, safer than most small cities.

And if I'm elected president, I'll follow that same philosophies. I'll work to make sure that if somebody commits a crime, they go to prison.  If somebody commits a crime with a gun, they'll go to prison for even more time and for mandatory sentences.  No plea bargains, no exceptions -- you go to jail.  That's the way to reduce crime.

We need to have zero tolerance for crime committed with a gun. After all, it's people that commit crimes, not guns.  (Applause.) They must be -- you remember Project Exile in the 1990s in Richmond, Virginia.  Within two years, the gun carry rate among suspects in Richmond was cut in half, and 350 armed felons were taken off the streets.  All of this helped Richmond's murder rate fall by 62 percent.

The NRA was an early supporter of Project Exile, and the program's success led to the establishment of the national Project Safe Neighborhood.  So that's the kind of success that I think we should build on, by providing funding to state prosecutors so they can screen out gun cases and refer the serious ones to federal court.  The funding can be used to hire more state prosecutors and to provide uniform screening of gun cases at a local level.

You should know that during the Clinton administration, federal gun prosecutions sank to record lows, a 44 percent drop in federal referrals between 1992 and 1998.  Enforcement has improved under the Bush administration; I believe it will improve much, much more under a Giuliani administration, because I think this is an area where I really have experience, which is law enforcement.

In order to accomplish that, though, I'm going to need to get elected.  And to get elected, I need your support.  It is very, very important that we reach out to everyone and talk to them about the things that are necessary to have a safe America.  We need to strengthen the mandatory minimum sentences for armed career criminals, and if you're a violent offender that's out on bail and you're found with a gun, it should be very, very clear that you go to jail.  The bottom line is we need to step up enforcement against gun crimes and leave law-abiding citizens alone. 

Probably more than most, I realize it's the allocation of time and the priorities in the law enforcement system that determines if you reduce crime if you don't.  The law enforcement system is not without end; it's not without limited resources.  So the choices you make and what you focus on are going to determine whether you reduce crime or not.  The time spent focusing on law-abiding, legal gun owners is time taken away from arresting and prosecuting and disabling the criminals who use guns.  It's an -- very often, it's a trade-off.

I would say that my thinking on this as we go forward -- because you're entitled to know -- my thinking, if I should become president, as we go forward, is shaped not only by my experiences as a United States attorney fighting crime, a mayor fighting crime; by September 11, which puts a whole different emphasis on the thing America has to do to protect itself -- even, I think, a renewed emphasis on the Second Amendment; and the Parker decision, which I thought helped to crystallize and explain my thinking maybe better than I could ever do it.

The Parker decision, which I'm sure you're all familiar with, was decided right here in the D.C. Circuit by Judge Larry Silberman.  It struck down the laws in the District of Columbia that effectively made it illegal inside the District to own an operable handgun for self- defense in your own home.

I read the Parker decision.  It seemed to me an excellent example of strict constructionism, where a judge was struggling to find out the meaning of the words in the Constitution, not necessarily what he would like it to mean.  I don't know what Judge Silberman would have liked the words of the Second Amendment to mean, and Judge Silberman didn't care about what he liked it to mean.  What Judge Silberman cared about is what the people who wrote those words meant.  What did they mean when they wrote the Second Amendment?  What did they intend when they wrote the Second Amendment?  Not what would I like it to intend or what would you like it to intend.  That when we appoint a strict constructionist judge, that's what we're appointing.  We're appointing someone to interpret what somebody else meant, not to make it up as he or she goes along.  And Judge Silberman is a strict constructionist judge. 

Another reason the Parker decision should be upheld is to underscore the castle doctrine.  A person's home is their castle. People have a right to protect themselves in their homes.  It's a right that I believe they should have, but whether I believe they should have or they shouldn't have, the Framers of our Constitution have given it to them.  And it has to be respected.  After all, the Second Amendment is a freedom that is every bit as important as the other freedoms in the first 10 amendments. 

Just think of the language of it.  The language of it is "the people shall be secure."

(Cellphone rings.)  Let's see now.  This is my wife calling, I think.

Hello, dear.

I'm talking -- I'm talking to the members of the NRA right now.  Would you like to say hello? 

I love you, and I'll give you a call as soon as I'm finished. Okay?  

Okay.  Have a safe trip.  Bye-bye.  Talk to you later, dear.  I love you.

It's a lot better that way.  Well, this is -- I mean, this is one of the great blessings of the modern age, being always available.  Or maybe it isn't; I'm not sure.

But the Parker decision offers an excellent example.  Judge Silberman examined the notion of, you know, what does the language of the Second Amendment mean?  And what he found is pretty evident.  What he found was the words about people -- "the people" -- those words are used in the Bill of Rights, I believe, at least four other times: the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Ninth Amendment and the Tenth Amendment.  And some courts for some reason have decided that in the Second Amendment it means something different than in the other four, it means the right of the militia to bear arms.

But it doesn't say "the militia"; it says "the people."  Why would you read the Second Amendment any differently than the other four?  That is a perfect example - that is a perfect example of strict constructionist interpretation.  It is quite clear that when the Framers of our Constitution gave people the right to have and to bear arms, they meant exactly the same thing as they meant when they gave people the right of free speech, the right of freedom of religion, the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.  When they said the rights not otherwise committed to the federal government and the states are reserved for the people, it's the people.  It means a personal right, an individual right.

Now, I believe that's a correct interpretation.  I believe that's what the law should be.  But even if I didn't, that's what the Constitution says.  And when you become president of the United States, you put your hand down, you take the oath of office and you pledge to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution that exists. And you should know I understand that the right to bear arms is just as important a right in that Constitution as the right of free speech and the other rights.

And the one thing you can be sure about with me is, I will tell you what I really believe.  It's not going to change unless something dramatic has happened to make it change, and then I'll explain to you why.  And I think there's a certain value in knowing what you agree with and what you disagree with somebody about and then being able to trust how they're going to move forward.

There's one last thing I would like to talk to you about, because I know it's not exactly the agenda of this meeting, but it's something that really concerns me.  And it's the direction of our politics.

Yesterday there was a critical vote in front of the United States Senate.  It was vote on whether to condemn MoveOn.org or not for the horrible ad they ran against General Petraeus.  Now, why is that ad so horrible?  The ad is horrible because they've stepped beyond a new line, or they've moved to a new low, or, as my former senator, Senator Moynihan, described New York City about the time that I became mayor -- they're defining deviancy down.

And the new low they went to was -- look, MoveOn.org has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the politics of personal destruction --  which happens to be a Clinton phrase, by the way -- but MoveOn.org has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the politics of personal destruction now for some time.  And their politics of personal destruction are always focused only against Republican candidates, so they are a major fundraising source of the Democratic Party.

And, look, frankly, our politics of personal destruction have definitely defined deviancy down.  They go way beyond what they should.  But, you know, we're in politics, and you sort of accept that as part of the price of being in politics nowadays.  It's not a good thing, it's not helpful, but it's part of the price of it.

But in the past, we have not used those tactics against commanding generals in a time of war.  It's unthinkable that we would do that.  General Petraeus -- you may agree with -- which I do -- or you may disagree with him, but you have absolutely no right to impugn his integrity and expect us to take you seriously.  And that's precisely -- (applause) -- and that is precisely what MoveOn.org did when they compared his name -- they did a pun on his name that said General Petraeus is "General Betray Us," using language that evoked treason, by the way, and traitorous conduct about an American general that I think all objective, honest observers would say has far exceeded expectations for what he's been able to achieve in Iraq over the last four or five months.

Whether you agree with the war in Iraq or you don't, whether you agree with the surge or you don't, Democrats even came back from Iraq and said that he's having more success than anybody thought.  So to attack the man's integrity and honesty and decency is, in my view, indecent. It passed a line that we should not allow American political organizations to pass. 

And yesterday, 24 Democrats, not all Democrats, 24 Democrats decided to side with moveon.org and against General Petraeus.  And I think they defined for us the left wing of the left wing of the Democratic Party by voting that way.  And you can be sure that in the coming months, and should I run for president, I will certainly remind the American people of that.  Because you don't get to cast votes like that and not be accountable for the vote.

We are at war right now, whether some people want to recognize it or not.  The confidence our troops have and the confidence we have in the man that is commanding those troops and is putting his life at risk to save his country and to help his country and to keep his troops safe, the kind of confidence we have in him and the kind of way in which we conduct ourselves with regard to that tells something about whether we can be commander in chief of the United States.  And I intend to remind the American people of that.

Thank you very, very much.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Mr. Mayor, our audience members submitted a few questions.

And question number one is, while mayor, you initiated New York City's lawsuit against American firearms manufacturers, do you still believe that the American gun companies should be held liable for the unforeseeable criminal misuse of their products?

MR. GIULIANI:  I did initiate that lawsuit back in 2000.  Since then, I think that lawsuit has taken several turns and several twists that I don't agree with.  I also think that there have been subsequent intervening events, September 11th, which cast somewhat of a different light on the Second Amendment and Second Amendment rights.

Doesn't change the fundamental rights, but maybe it highlights the necessity for them more.  And I've also had a chance to read and analyze the Parker decision, which obviously hadn't taken place then.

So I think that lawsuit has gone in a direction that I probably don't agree with at this point, although at the time -- and there were several other things like that.  I mean, at the time what I was doing, during the time that I was mayor, is taking advantage of every law and every interpretation of every law that I could think of to reduce crime in New York City.  And to say that I was excessive in doing that, do not feel singled out.  I was excessive in every way that I could think of in order to reduce crime.  I enforced the gun laws that existed, strongly, and the interpretations that existed, strongly, but I also enforced the laws very strictly against all other things.  It was part of the broken windows theory.  Some people call it excessive; I thought it was intense.  But the reality is, I was trying to achieve a result, which is to reduce crime in New York.

That is not necessarily what is needed now.  It certainly isn't the interpretation that I think is the correct interpretation of the Second Amendment.  So I would say that I didn't anticipate that the lawsuit would go in some of the directions that it's going with.  And you've also had an intervening factor, the Tiahrt amendment, which I think is a sensible one, a sensible division.  It gives law enforcement the ability to get information.  Law enforcement is comfortable with it.  So I would say that at this point it's probably going in a direction where if I were sitting on the court, I probably wouldn't agree with.

MODERATOR:  Question number two.  If elected president, will you appoint judges that respect the individual right to keep and bear arms?

MR. GIULIANI:  I'll appoint judges that interpret the Constitution strictly.  I will not ask judges for a litmus test, because I think that's wrong; and frankly, I don't think judges know the answer to how they'll decide individual cases.  I believe that the Second Amendment is an individual right.

I think Judge Silberman's decision -- and this is the reason I was really impressed with it -- not only did it crystallize my thinking on the Second Amendment, it probably even improved my thinking on the Second Amendment.  And the thing that I found the most illustrative of the reasoning is the fact that I don't know what Judge Silberman's view -- personal view is on firearms.

I don't know on what side of the line he is on firearms.  All that I know is he tried to figure out what other people meant and then applied it.  That's what I'm looking for in a judge.

Maybe the easiest way to describe the kind of judges that I would appoint is I would have appointed John Roberts to the court.  He's a former colleague of mine.  He's a man that I respect very much, and he's someone that I would put in the category of being a strict constructionist judge.  I would have appointed Sam Alito, who was also a colleague of mine as the U.S. attorney in the adjoining district.  I certainly would have appointed Nino Scalia.  I've known Nino for 30 years.  Those are the kinds of judges that I would seek to appoint. Justice Thomas.  You never know when you appoint a judge exactly what you're getting.  You can't.  So you got to work really, really hard to find judges who you believe are going to interpret the Constitution and not create it, and those are the kinds of judges that I would appoint.

And I believe those judges would agree with me that the Second Amendment is a personal right, and whether you'd like it to be or you wouldn't like it to be, you've got to respect that.  And I hope I'll be successful in finding judges like that.  I think I will be.  I think President Bush, one of the real legacies that he leaves is his excellent appointments to the Supreme Court.  (Applause.)

MODERATOR:  Question three:  What is the most important action the federal government can undertake to reduce the level of violent crime in the United States?

MR. GIULIANI:  The most important action the federal government can take to reduce crime in the United States is to strictly enforce the laws that exist and for the -- and to cooperate with the state and local governments in handling the cases in all the different districts that exist in the United States that complement state and local law enforcement.

The reality is that law enforcement in this country is, by and large, state and local law enforcement.  The federal government is not the chief law enforcer in the country.  I'll give you one example of this -- and I've been on both sides of this, right?  I've spent the majority of my career in the United States Department of Justice; more time in the United States Department of Justice than anywhere.  And then I was mayor of the largest city on the country with the largest police department in the country.  So I've worked on the local side, I've worked on the federal side, I've worked on the international side.

Here's the difference in terms of impact on reducing crime. There are right now approximately 12,000 FBI agents.  There are 800,000 uniformed police officers.  So where do you think you have the impact in reducing crime, at the federal level or at the state and local level?  Where do you think the emphasis has to be put to have first preventers, meaning people who are going to prevent the next terrorist act?  You've got to understand and respect state and local law enforcement and the primary role that they play in keeping us safe.  And you've got to give them the support they need to enforce the laws that presently exist.

If we pass no new laws of any kind and we just enforce the ones that were there effectively with Comstat programs like I had in New York and broken windows theory and sufficient and well-trained enough police officers, we could see the kinds of reduction in crime in the next decade that we've had in the last.  If we go in the other direction, however, you'll see crime starting to increase again.

So there are a lot of things you can do about crime, but if you'd ask the one most significant thing that you can do about crime, to continue to reduce it and even increase those reductions in crime, the single-most important thing to do is enforce the law strictly, apply the broken windows theory, and you'll see major crime deductions -- reductions in this country. 

MODERATOR:  And the final question, Mr. Mayor:  What is your position on waiting periods?

MR. GIULIANI:  What's my position on waiting periods?  My position is the law should be less the way it is now, given the level of crime in this country.  I think the emphasis and the energy should be spent on enforcing the laws that presently exist, and if changes in the law are necessary later, that'll respond to other social conditions.

I think the single-most important thing that the next president has to do is to organize an effort in the Department of Justice and with state and local law enforcement to work in a cooperative way to enforce the laws that presently exist.  After we do that and we see the impact of that, then we can take a look at whether new laws are necessary.  They may or may not be.

And I'll leave with you one final thought on the bigger picture. The election in 2008 is going to be a defining election.  I know every presidential candidate since the beginning of the republic has probably said the next presidential election is the most important presidential election.

And probably every presidential candidate who said that is probably right, because it's always the next one that's the most important. And what you and I should be doing is looking toward the future.

Who is going to be the best president overall to lead this country?  Who is going to be the best president overall to lead this country and keep it on offense against Islamic terrorists and not have a slip back to the Clinton era of playing defense against Islamic terrorists?  That decision may be the single most important of all for us, because it may have to do with how we deal with the Islamic terrorists' war against us, and that may be the single defining issue.

The second most important issue is, how is someone going to deal with the direction in which our government is going to go?  If it's a Democrat, we're going in the direction of bigger government, more new laws, more new regulations, socialized medicine, much more government control of your life.  If you are like me, you're going to find a president that by and large moves us in the direction of more private choice, more private decision-making, solutions in the private sector, respect for the differences we have that's reflected in the amendments that we talked about.

And as I said at the beginning, you never get a candidate you agree with 100 percent.  I'm not even sure I agree with myself 100 percent.  I think I do, but not always.  You have to look at the overall candidate.  And then, I think, depending on the views that you have, you have to figure out who's electable, who can win. Because if we make a mistake about that, this country is going to go very much in a direction that I think you and I disagree with.

So thank you very much.  Thank you for your consideration.  I would love to have your support in the future.  Mostly I'd like us to respect each other, because I think we have very, very legitimate and similar views, even though there may be some differences here and there.  And thank you very, very much for your contribution to many things: safety, but also to the personal freedoms that after all is the thing that we're fighting for and, in some cases, some of us unfortunately are dying for.  And hasn't that always been the way?

Thank you very much, and God bless 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.