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Remarks by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) at NRA's "Celebration of American Values" Conference in Washington, DC -- 9/21/07

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

SEN. MCCAIN:  Thanks to all of you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.   Thank you for that very kind welcome.  And I would like to thank you for the kind reception and most of all the great support you gave to my dear friend John Thune in one of the real great Senate races in recent history.  And I've often said that if I looked like John Thune, I'd be president of the United States today, I can tell you. 

I want to thank you all, and it's a pleasure to be with you.  And I see a lot of old friends here, like Jim Baker, who I worked with long ago, in the 1980s, in the struggle to preserve firearms freedom. His hair was not so gray, but I had a lot more hair.

So you know, my friends, you're a sophisticated crowd.  You know politics and you know politicians.  You're pretty used to hearing aspirants for public office come before you and pledge fealty to the cause of the Second Amendment.  You know you need to dig into a politician's record to find out where they really stand.  You know some will change their positions or have little record for you to judge, and my friends, that's not the case with me.

When I first ran for Congress in 1982, I was proud to have the support of gun owners and the National Rifle Association.  For more than two decades, I've opposed the efforts of the anti-gun crowd to ban guns, ban ammunition, ban magazines and ban paint gun owners as some kind of fringe group -- dangerous in modern America.

Some even call you extremists.  My friends, gun owners are not extremists.  You're the core of modern America.  The Second Amendment is unique in the world and at the core of our constitutional freedoms. It guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms.  To argue anything else is to reject the clear meaning of our Founding Fathers.

But the clear meaning of the Second Amendment has not stopped those who want to punish firearm owners and those who want to make -- and those who make and sell firearms for the actions of criminals.  It seems like every time there's a particularly violent crime, the anti- gun crowd comes up with a plan to capitalize on tragedy and limit Second Amendment rights for all Americans.

I opposed the ban on so-called assault weapons, which was first proposed after a California schoolyard shooting.  I thought it made no sense to ban a class of firearms based on cosmetic features.  I opposed waiting periods for gun purchases.  We lost on both in the short run, but it's worked out better in the long run.  Fortunately, the gun ban sunsetted after 10 long years, and I was proud to vote against those who tried to extend it in 2004.

I also opposed efforts to cripple our firearms manufacturers by making them liable for the acts of violent criminals.  This was a particularly devious effort, to use lawsuits to bankrupt our great gun manufacturers.  A number of big city mayors decided it was more important to blame the manufacturers of a legal product than it was to control crime in their own cities.  Fortunately -- fortunately, we are able to protect manufacturers from this frivolous lawsuits, thanks to your work.  God bless you.  Give yourself an -- a round of applause.

In my years in Washington, I've seen what I call three myths used by politicians to excuse their support for gun control.

First is the big city myth, that it is acceptable, even necessary, to fight crime in big cities.  If you have a crime problem, they say it's really a gun problem.  So instead of increasing police patrols instituting tough sentences for lawbreakers and other measures that would actually address crime, we restrict ownership of guns and limit the rights of law-abiding citizens.

We're meeting today in a city that represents the worst of this myth.  The citizens of the nation's capital do not enjoy the right to bear -- to keep and bear arms.  That's why I've co-sponsored legislation repealing the ban on firearms possession for law-abiding citizens in the District of Columbia.  The Second Amendment is not just for rural Arizona; it's for all of America.

The second myth is that of the bad gun.  This was at the core of the debate over the so-called assault weapons.  Proponents of this myth argue that some kinds of guns are acceptable for now, but others are not if they have certain features like a pistol grip or an extended magazine.  I will continue to oppose those who want to ration the Second Amendment based on their views of what guns it applies to.

Finally, there's the hunting myth.  The hunting myth:  If you show your bona fides by hunting ducks or varmints or quail, it makes up for support of gun control.  This myth overlooks a fundamental truth:  The Second Amendment is not about hunting, it's about freedom. 

Over the years, we've not agreed on every issue.  We had differences over my efforts to standardize sales procedures at gun shows and to clean up our campaign finance system.  I understand and respect your position.  But while we may disagree on the means, we do agree on the need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, and, in the light of the number of my colleagues who have been disgraced or under investigation and are worried about indictment, agree that Washington needs cleaning up.  Americans have lost trust in their government, and that trust must be restored. 

But these minor differences pale in comparison to our shared vision of a Second Amendment protected from political vagaries.

As we have real differences with many of those running for president, Democratic presidential candidates have learned something since 2000. They don't talk about their plans for gun control; they pose for the cameras in camouflage, but that's all they're doing is posing.  Just because they don't talk about gun control doesn't mean they don't want gun control.

Let's be clear.  If the Democrat candidates were elected president, they will go after the rights of law-abiding gun owners just as Bill Clinton did when he was president.  MoveOn.org, which seems to be calling the shots in the Democratic Party these days, will have more influence on gun control in the Oval Office, not John Dingell.  These Democratic candidates voted to ban guns on ammunition or to allow gun-makers to be sued out of existence as senators.  Think how much worse it would be if they had the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, name attorney generals and use the full power of the federal government.

I'm going to leave you here in just a couple of minutes because I'm going to go to the floor of the United States Senate to vote again against an attempt by my Democrat colleagues and some Republicans to change the course of success that we are now enjoying in Iraq, to deny these brave young Americans who have already served and sacrificed so much in Iraq the opportunity to continue this new strategy which is succeeding.  I am going to the floor of the Senate again to try to stop the Democrats from going back to the failed policy of previous years and set a date for withdrawal, which is a date for surrender. We cannot choose to lose in Iraq, and I will not choose to lose.

I was going to describe to you in more details what the Democrats are trying to do.  But I also want to mention to you again:  take every opportunity to express your outrage and your indignation on this disgraceful assault on a good and decent and honorable man, General Petraeus, by MoveOn.org.  That is an unacceptable assault on the honor and integrity -- that's an unacceptable assault on the honor, integrity of the entire officer corps of the United States military, and that -- and the service -- and the honorable service and sacrifice they have made to this country, for this country.  Reject it.  Reject it.  Please.

I'll end up by just reminding you, my friends, of what's at stake here.

It's not my political ambitions.  There's been so much sacrifice; there's been so much sorrow.  And a lot of -- all of us are frustrated by the sacrifice that's been made of America's most precious treasure: American blood.

And we know.  We know it's long and hard and tough and we know that Americans have been frustrated by it.  But we also know that this new strategy is succeeding.  This is a great general.  But most importantly the men -- young men and women who are serving today in the military are the very, very best of America.  And they are out there. 

They are out there.  They are out there in 120, 130-degree heat. They're going to put on 40 pounds of body armor; they're going to put on 30, 40, 50 pounds of equipment.  And they're going to be out there 10, 12 hours a day, defending somebody else's freedom.  I revere all generations of Americans that served our country but I can assure you, these are the very, very best.

Now, a lot of times, as I say, we get our political ambitions in the forefront of our thoughts and perhaps some of our actions. Wolfeboro, New Hampshire -- Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, approximately a month-and-a-half ago, I was at a town hall meeting.  Woman stood up, and I recognized her.  And she said, my son Matthew Stanley was killed just before Christmas last year in Baghdad, and will you do me the honor of wearing a bracelet with his name on it?  I told her I would be honored to do so.  Then she said, and will you do me the great favor of doing everything you can to make sure that my son's death was not in vain?

My friends, that's what this debate is all about.  Thank you and God bless. 


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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.