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An Exclusive Interview With John McCain

Friday, May 16, 2008

To say that the 2008 elections will be crucial for the future of the Second Amendment would be an understatement. Future efforts to preserve our gun rights and our hunting heritage hinge on who will take the helm at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next January. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox recently sat down with presumptive Republican nominee Senator John McCain. They asked him some direct questions about his record and his philosophy. Here's what Senator McCain had to say.

Senator, the U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, a case that will address the question of whether the Second Amendment protects an individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and whether Washington, D.C.'s bans on handguns and functional firearms in the home are constitutional. What is your position on this historic case?

I hope the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the lower court's ruling and strikes down Washington, D.C.'s bans on handguns and self-defense in the home. It seems clear to me that the D.C. laws are unconstitutional. From a crime-fighting standpoint, they have been a complete failure. All gun-control schemes are based on the premise that criminals are going to obey the law. Well, by definition, criminals break the law, and they certainly break the law in Washington, D.C., as it ranks among the highest crime areas in the country every year. I was proud to co-sponsor legislation in Congress to overturn D.C.’s ban on handguns and self-defense. I was also proud to join a bi-partisan majority in signing an amicus brief in support of the individual right to own firearms. I was not surprised that my presidential opponents refused to support this common-sense approach to protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Senator, it’s very likely that the next president will have the opportunity to name one or more justices to the Supreme Court. If elected president, what type of justices would you appoint to the Court, and how would you evaluate potential nominees for other judgeships as well?

I will take the same approach to appointing Supreme Court justices that I will to appointing federal judges. I intend to nominate judges who have proven themselves worthy of our trust that they take as their sole responsibility the enforcement of laws made by the people’s elected representatives, judges of the character and quality of Justices Roberts and Alito, judges who can be relied upon to respect the values of the people whose rights, laws and property they are sworn to defend.

Senator, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton upset hundreds of delegates to the United Nations when he said the U.S. would not agree to any treaty on small arms if it violated the Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens. Now, the U.N. is gearing up for another conference to discuss an arms trade treaty. How would your administration approach these discussions? Would you continue to adopt the position set forth by Ambassador Bolton?

The U.S. Constitution protects the sovereignty of our nation and the rights of our citizens. I will oppose any efforts to restrict the rights of law-abiding gun owners in America by the U.N. or any other international body. I agree with the position of former Ambassador John Bolton that international treaties and agreements must conform to our Constitution, not the other way around.

Senator, if you are elected president, what type of attorney general would you appoint?

As the top law enforcement officer of the United States, it’s critical that the attorney general possess the skills and judgment to enforce the laws of the land, and to lead the Department of Justice in its critical mission. In my administration, the focus of any policy discussion on crime in America will be on the criminal element, not on law-abiding gun owners.

Senator, gun shows have been an American tradition for generations. Millions of law-abiding gun owners enjoy participating in gun shows in their local communities every year. Over the past decade, there have been increasing efforts by anti-gun organizations to shut down the American tradition of gun shows. As you know, many gun owners were disappointed with your past votes on this issue, votes they believe would have brought gun shows to an end. Would you explain your position on gun shows, along with your past votes on this issue?

I appreciate the opportunity to answer this question and make my views on gun shows clear for your members and supporters. As you mentioned, I have supported efforts to have NICS background checks apply to gun sales at gun shows. I recognize that gun shows are enjoyed by millions of law-abiding Americans and, rest assured, I do not support efforts by those who seek to regulate gun shows out of existence. I also oppose efforts to require federal regulation of all private sales such as a transfer between a father and son or husband and wife. I recognize that despite the promise of a ‘fair and instant’ check, the reality is that problems exist with the system that often unfairly burden lawful purchases of firearms. I also understand that background checks at gun shows need to be conducted rapidly so they do not unfairly limit the ability to conduct lawful sales. As president, I will work with the FBI and Congress to make sure that background checks are accurate, fair and instant.

Senator, we regularly see groups appear that purport to represent gun owners and hunters, claiming to be a ‘moderate’ voice in the gun-control debate. Currently, there’s a group called the American Hunters and Shooters Association that purports to represent hunters and shooters but in reality is supporting Senator Obama, whose anti-gun record and sentiments are well known. What is your view of groups like this?

‘I think one of the reasons the National Rifle Association has been so successful is that you represent real Americans, you represent them very ably and your goals are well known. I think there should be no doubt that the NRA is the organization in the U.S. truly dedicated to protecting the Second Amendment rights of all Americans.’

There is no shortage of groups in Washington that misrepresent their real agenda on the Second Amendment and many other issues. Some groups claim support for the Second Amendment, but their real agenda is to further restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens through more gun control. I think one of the reasons the National Rifle Association has been so successful is that you represent real Americans, you represent them very ably and your goals are well known. I think there should be no doubt that the NRA is the organization in the U.S. truly dedicated to protecting the Second Amendment rights of all Americans. That is why you have earned such respect from those who share your beliefs in the importance of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Senator, you were the chief sponsor of ‘campaign finance reform’ legislation, legislation that, when passed, included a provision that restricts the NRA’s ability to run broadcast ads lobbying on legislative issues in the 60 days before a federal election. Many gun owners believe that this provision severely restricts their ability to participate in the legislative process, and in fact, many believe it to be unconstitutional. Would you explain your motivation behind campaign finance reform, and why the broadcast restriction was included in the final bill?

I fought for campaign finance reform because I strongly believed that prior to the enactment of this legislation, our system of financing campaigns was seriously broken and in need of repair. I genuinely worried that legislative provisions were being passed or defeated based on the size of ‘soft money ‘ contributions made by affected interests. I can assure you that my motivation in this effort was directed at these out-of-control amounts of ‘soft money’ that seeped into federal campaigns, not a desire to restrict the ability of gun owners or any other group of citizens from making their voices heard in the legislative process. I am fully committed to defending the constitutional right to petition the government for the redress of grievances.

Senator, would you explain the reasons behind your opposition to Bill Clinton’s ban on many semi-automatic firearms, that he misleadingly called ‘assault weapons’?

Of course. Gun bans don’t work, because they only restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens. Criminals pay no more attention to laws banning guns than they do to laws banning assault, robbery or murder. In fact, the National Institute of Justice found that the firearms banned by President Clinton were used in less than two percent of all crimes involving firearms, clear evidence of the ineffectiveness of this law. I voted against the Clinton gun ban when Congress considered it in 1994 and I voted against efforts to keep that misguided law on the books. I was pleased to see the law rightfully sunset in 2004, because it represented an arbitrary restriction on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

Senator, throughout your career you have opposed waiting periods on firearm purchases, bans on commonly owned ammunition, and efforts to register and license gun owners. What are your reasons for those positions?

Throughout my years in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, I have consistently opposed these measures, because they are arbitrary restrictions on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. Gun bans, waiting periods, ammunition bans, registration and licensing of gun owners, each of these has a common theme: They only affect law-abiding citizens. And they have another common theme: They don’t work as crime- fighting tools. The way to reduce crime is to prosecute criminals to the fullest extent of existing laws, which, if elected president, gun owners can count on my administration to do.

Senator, you were a co-sponsor of, and helped lead the effort to pass, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in the Senate, a bill to stop the reckless lawsuits that were designed to bankrupt the American firearm industry. Why did you feel so strongly about that legislation?

I was proud to co-sponsor and work hard for the passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. For too long, big-city mayors were trying to sue the American firearm industry out of business, by forcing them to spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars just to defend their innocence in court. Holding the manufacturers of a lawful product responsible for the unforeseeable acts of criminals is not the way we do things in America. It was important for Congress to step in and protect this key industry, an industry that President Franklin Roosevelt called the ‘arsenal of our democracy.’ I was proud to help lead that effort.

Senator, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there were efforts to confiscate legally owned guns from citizens at a time when there was a breakdown of public services, including police protection. What is your view on this?

I was disturbed to see the actions of authorities attempting to disarm law-abiding citizens, especially at a time of crisis or emergency when public authority was in doubt. I was pleased to support and vote for an amendment that prohibited such confiscation in 2006. One of the core purposes of the Second Amendment is to enable our citizenry to protect themselves, their families and their property. Government should never undermine this inalienable right.

Senator, why should gun owners support you in November?

Because I support you and your concerns about the future of firearm freedom in our great country, unlike either of my potential opponents, Senator Obama or Senator Clinton. While we have disagreed at times on some issues, I have never tried to hide my positions, or to say one thing and do another. And the fact is that we have always agreed on the vast majority of issues’as evidenced by my opposition to gun bans, ammunition bans, waiting periods, registration and licensing, and other arbitrary restrictions on law-abiding gun owners during my entire career. As I mentioned earlier, of the three presidential candidates who had an opportunity to sign the historic and bipartisan amicus brief in the Heller case, strongly arguing that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms and that Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns and operable firearms in the home is unconstitutional, I was the only one who did. And unlike my eventual opponent, I will appoint an attorney general who will vigorously prosecute criminals, instead of restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens. NRA members and gun owners across the country can count on a McCain administration to respect their Second Amendment freedoms and hunting heritage. I hope to have your support and the votes of your members this November.

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NRA ILA

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.