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Remarks by Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) at NRA's "Celebration of American Values" Conference in Washinton, DC -- 9/21/07

Friday, September 21, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

BARBOUR: Thank you all. Thank you all.


I'm tickled to be here to be with you. I'm not going to try to compete with Fred. 


You know, Fred used to be, kind of, my size, but tall. So I noticed his sveltness and I'm going to see if I can hold my stomach in for 15 minutes.


Well, you know, I'm glad to be here and to be among friends.


I was pleased to see a bunch of your officers and the people that help work for you and that I've had a chance to work with over the years, including the years that I was the chairman of the Republican National Committee, when we were great allies.


I can remember President Clinton's so-called crime bill in 1994. And that's when I started reminding people that Republicans, what we're interested in is criminal control, not gun control.


But my state -- as you can imagine, in my state, to be somebody who's a champion of Second Amendment rights just puts me in the large majority.


But I will say, even in a state like mine, where, before I became governor, the heavily Democratic legislature passed legislation to preempt these gun lawsuits that were going on a few years ago -- even in a state that's very strongly for the Second Amendment, we do have things that we need to do, and that can be done, as I learned personally.


I mean, one of the things that we weren't expecting when I became governor was Katrina.


We knew that we were the worst state in the country for lawsuit abuse and we had to have tort reform. And despite being opposed by the House Democratic leadership, Mississippi passed what the Wall Street Journal calls the most comprehensive tort reform bill that any state has passed.


That's good for sportsmen. That's good for gun-owners. In our state, it ended a health care crisis that had been caused by rampant lawsuit abuse that made doctors quit practicing, obstetricians quit delivering babies, hospitals close their obstetrics wards. And we've turned that back around.


That's important to you and your neighbors. It also gives you stronger protection against frivolous and outrageous suits against guns.


But during Katrina, which we didn't foresee, I also got exposure to what the other side thinks when Louisiana tried to confiscate the guns of innocent people. In Mississippi, I signed an emergency powers declaration that firearms may not be seized from law-abiding citizens during a time of emergency.

That emergency order is still in place and will remain in place as long as I am governor. And since I'm up for reelection the first Tuesday in November, I hope it'll be for least four more years.


But, you know, at a time when you have been struck by the worst natural disaster in American history, I can't think of a worse idea than to disarm law-abiding citizens.


Now, we didn't have the kind of things happen in Mississippi that happened in New Orleans, but we did have some looting. We didn't have a lot of looting, and I think maybe one of the reasons was that the night after the storm, I said on television that people who shoot looters in Mississippi won't be prosecuted.


To me, looting is like grave robbing; I mean, it's abominable.


We had many merchants and stores who, after the storm -- and particularly in the grocery business and people that had products that were going to deteriorate, they were giving food away. They were giving things away that were going to spoil.


But for somebody to be going around stealing television sets and guns -- by the way, one of the most stolen items among the small amount of looting we had were guns -- people who lost very valuable gun collections.


But I think we have to trust the people, trust law-abiding citizens.


That's why, since I've been governor, Mississippi has passed what we call the castle doctrine, to allow law-abiding citizens to defend their homes, to defend their businesses against criminals. And, I'm glad to tell you, it not only passed, but it passed by a very large margin. In fairness, a lot of Democrats voted for it. It was not a partisan issue.


In the same way that we make it legal for law-abiding citizens to use guns to protect themselves and their property, we're focused on taking guns away from criminals and for punishing criminals that use guns in crimes.


To that end, this year, we passed -- this legislature, we passed legislation for lengthened mandatory prison sentences for committing a crime with a gun.


We passed minimum mandatory prison sentences for felons to be illegally in possession of a gun.


And the reason these are the right things to do is that does attack crime, but at the same time it doesn't do anything to take away the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. And that's what we're got to learn.


Again, this is not about gun control. This is about criminal control. This is about doing something about the criminals who use guns to commit crimes, not to try to take guns away from law-abiding citizens who not only have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but also have a lot of uses for that, including defending themselves against criminals.


That's, kind of, the way we've gone at it in Mississippi.


And I'll tell you, it's not hard for you to understand, I don't think, why you would have such bipartisan support for the Second Amendment in Mississippi.


We are a great hunting state. We have a huge, huge population of white-tailed deer. We have super duck hunting. Dove hunting, a gentleman's sport we have -- is in season right now.


Mississippians like to hunt.


Right this last few days, we have issued licenses for catching alligators -- that we have an overpopulation of alligators. And our sportsmen get a kick out of going out there. And in the newspaper, every day, for the last two weeks -- we only issued, I think, a hundred licenses this year -- you'll see 14-foot alligators that these guys have caught.


But we're an outdoor state. We have great water sports. We've got beaches. We've got the river. But hunting is one of the great, great things of Mississippi's outdoor recreation and outdoor tourism.


People learn to hunt as children, like I did. People learn to hunt with their wives, like my wife and I have done, bird hunting, over the last several years; something that you can do together and enjoy very much together, even if your wife can outshoot you.


That's why, very early in my marriage, I learned to say, "Yes, dear."


You know, it's funny, there was a picture in The Rifleman the other day, of the late conservative caucus in the Mississippi legislature giving me a beautiful Colt 45, Model 1911 that was made specifically for Mississippi. There was a series made by Colt some years ago.


And some of the -- one of the legislator's found this one that was the one for Mississippi. One was made for each state. And it's just fabulous. They gave it to me as a gift.


But my wife is a good enough shot, as I told Robert Glock, when he came over to -- when we switched to Glocks for our highway patrol, "Thank you for giving Marsha a Glock, but we're going to keep it in the safe downstairs."


You know, this being governor isn't easy all the time.


I just want to close by telling you this. I can remember when I became chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1993 the people who were against the Second Amendment were on the ascendant. They thought they had as on the run. And I will tell you what they didn't realize: The public is a lot smarter than politicians and the press give them credit for.


Wayne LaPierre and I were visiting out there just a minute ago before I came on about the fact that we took the message straight to the people about what the Constitution says and what it means, and about why it's a good policy and why it's right.


And I'll never forget, you know, after I was out as chairman, when Albert Gore ran for president, you'd've thought he was a member of the NRA.


I mean, the left that had been on the attack for years and years, all of a sudden realized they'd got on the wrong side from the public.


And that's why these issues today are not the issues that we had to deal with in the 1990s. But don't think that this can't come back in some other form.


I remember the lawsuit strategy by the left, you know, to file lawsuits against guns and gun manufacturers and people that sell guns. There are going to be other efforts, and that's why I just say to you as I close and before I take questions -- be vigilant. Don't think this isn't important. Things can turn around and go backwards pretty quick in this country. That's just the nature of news, the nature of impatience. Americans are an impatient people and they're busy people, so they don't always take time to think through the issues.


But I will say to Second Amendment supporters, gun-owners, it's like most the issues for conservatives. The left may get the bumper sticker, but we've got the winning argument if we take time to give people the facts.


If people have information, they will know that what you're working for and what you stand for is right, constitutional and good policy for American families and communities.


So, I appreciate very much what you're doing. Thank you very mucyh.


MODERATOR: As you know, our members submitted a few questions prior to your speaking. One of those is that: "Many states, including Mississippi, have a castle doctrine law on the books, which affirms that people have the right to defend themselves wherever they have a legal right to be. Can you explain why are these castle doctrine laws so important?"


BARBOUR: Well, they're very important for a pretty simple reason if you're a boy from Yazoo County, Mississippi like I am. I live in a county that's 940 square miles and at no time of day do we ever have more than six deputy sheriffs on duty.


One of my older brothers used to say, when he bought this M-14, I said, "Why do you want an M-14?" He said, "I don't want anybody knocking on my door at 3 o'clock in the morning that's got something on his side of the door that I ain't got my side of the door."


But those of us who live in rural areas, we understand it can be quite a little bit of time before the police can get there. Frankly, the same thing's true about big cities. It just is more obvious to those of us who live in rural areas.


So that's why it's important for people to be able to protect their property, and protect their families, protect their businesses. And a lot of times, to protect that means you have to, as my brother says, have as good or better on your side of the door than they got on the other side of the door.


MODERATOR: You come from a state that has a long and proud hunting tradition. How can the state protect the future of hunting and increase hunting opportunities? BARBOUR: That is a good and important question, because that's something we work on a lot.


I mean, Mississippi still is a relatively rural state, but our population is growing. We've got sprawl, just like other places.


And one of the things that we did this year was pass legislation that protects hunting areas in annexed parts of municipalities. We have a lot of municipalities that will, kind of, expand toward where they think they're gonna grow for five years from now. And, you know, that's a question of policy that I'm not going to get into.


But a lot of that land is still very rural, very safe to hunt on. And so, we passed legislation to keep it protected for hunting access.


We've had no-net-loss legislation to be sure that the amount of public lands that are available to the public for hunting is not reduced; that we have no net loss of land.


BARBOUR: Because there are areas where people want to close public areas to hunting, and sometimes there are good reasons. If the use becomes such that there are a lot of people around, well, our policy is we go find some other public land, and we open that up.


Set-aside programs and other things are important to us, but I will tell you, as a practical matter, in Mississippi, more land is available for hunting because one thing that we've learned, people love to hunt, people are willing to pay, people like to invest in a duck camp or a deer hunting club. And it's gotten to where in Mississippi farmland is a whole lot more valuable to be leased for hunting than it is to grow crops on. And I'm just being as straightforward as I can be.


I'm from the Mississippi Delta, and in the delta we have a lot of low land, and so it's very easy to impound water. And so people come in there, and they lease the land, long-term leases from farmers. And then they impound water and get duck holes, and then they go build a nice duck camp there, and they go out and they hunt. And that farmer makes more money on his land being hunted with duck holes on it then he would do growing cotton or corn or cows or anything else.


We ought not to lose sight of the fact that we don't have to go out and take things away from people to preserve hunting. What we got to do is just make sure people don't take things away from us.


Because Americans love the outdoors, Mississippians love the outdoors. And we're going to continue to have people who hunt and fish and other outdoor sports besides hunting. But we do have to be conscious of the fact that growth can cause some recession in the amount of acreage and that there are ways, like no-net-loss and by farmland that goes back into environments that are better for hunting, that we can protect this.


Is that my last question?


Well, I do want to say to you, since I'm not running for president I appreciate the applause. Standing up, I thought, was a little over the top, but ...


You know what Mark Twain said about politicians. He said, "Don't applaud. It only encourages them."


But, seriously, I'm encouraged by what you all are doing and appreciate what you're doing and look forward to continuing to work for you my next four years as governor.




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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.