On September 21, the NRA held its first "Celebration of American Values" conference, providing NRA members the opportunity to hear some of our nation's most important leaders address Second Amendment issues. Hundreds attended and the event was broadcast nationally by C-SPAN. The most anticipated speakers, however, were a number of 2008 Presidential candidates.
The two-day conference, held in downtown Washington, D.C., included speeches by leading Republican Presidential candidates: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a candidate for the Democrat nomination, provided videotaped remarks, as did GOP candidates Governor Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) and U.S. Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.).
Among the other speakers were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-Va.), and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
All the speakers expressed their commitment to Second Amendment rights, as NRA activists applauded their declarations of support. The impressive turnout of speakers was a testament to the NRA's political clout—electoral power confirmed by a recent Fabrizio & McLaughlin survey of 1,000 Republican voters the same weekend. Forty-four percent of those polled said they would be more likely to back a candidate who had the support of the NRA.
Senator John McCain led off among Presidential candidates and spoke of his long history of working with the NRA. "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 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 are the core of modern America."
In one of his first major appearances since officially declaring his candidacy, former Sen. Fred Thompson told the crowd, "I think we are winning on the interpretation of the Second Amendment. I've always taken the position that—kind of a complicated position that I've worked out—the Constitution means what it says." This affirmation of a simple and basic truth was met with thunderous applause from the gathered NRA members.
Later in the program, Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke of his lifelong love of hunting and the outdoors, but reminded all, "I'm a hunter. But that's not what the Second Amendment is about." He went on to discuss what he believes "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."
One of the most anticipated speakers—especially among the large press contingent at the meeting—was Rudy Giuliani. The former New York City mayor's history of support for gun control, and the lawsuit he and his city filed against the firearm industry have raised legitimate questions about his position on Second Amendment issues. Mayor Giuliani tried to allay those fears, saying, "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." He went on to say, "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."
Later in the program, Giuliani was asked if he continued to support the lawsuit that he brought against firearm manufacturers as mayor. He responded, "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 . . . So, I would say that, at this point, it's probably going in a direction where if I was sitting on the court, I probably wouldn't agree with it."
Above and beyond the politics of the day, one of the most moving parts of the program was a presentation by a wounded veteran, home now and recovering from traumatic battlefield injuries. U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Greg Stube recounted his experiences serving with Special Forces in Afghanistan and bore witness to the bravery and dedication of our troops. He also described the Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) program, which helps wounded service members reintegrate themselves into American life through participation in field and shooting sports. He thanked the NRA and its members for their support not only of HAVA, but for our troops in general. In return, the crowd showed who truly deserved thanks, by giving SFC. Stube the longest and loudest applause of the day.