Constitutionalism and Responsible Citizenship

A speech by Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association,
delivered at the Claremont Institute, September 17, 1999

You know, I was leaving town and I ran into Strom Thurmond and he said, “Hey, Wayne, you tell that young actor fellow, that president of your association, hello for me.” With Charlton Heston as president of your association, a lot of funny things happen. We were going to a plane not long ago and the baggage guy ran up to Charlton Heston and held out his hand and said “Richard Burton, I’ve always been a big fan.” And Heston, without missing a beat, holds out his hand and he says, “Young man, if I were Richard Burton this hand would be a lot colder right now.”

Anyway, I was reading in Harper’s Magazine an article by Daniel Lazare titled “Your Constitution is Killing You.” This article contains a number of really shocking statements. Lazare states, among other things, that it could be that the Constitution is not the greatest plan, that it contains notions repugnant to modern sensibility, and then goes on to say, and I am quoting, “Why must we subordinate ourselves to a 208-year-old law, that if the latest scholarship is correct is contrary to what we want?” What he means by that is the Second Amendment is an individual right to bear arms, that’s what all the scholars are saying, and he even goes on to say something that drives liberals nuts and they cannot bear to hear: “ contrary to what we want.” So let me read that again: “Why must we subordinate ourselves to a 208-year-old law, that if the latest scholarship is correct is contrary to what we want.” Now, when you hear that, you begin to get the idea of what this whole debate’s really about.

Last night, I did Larry King with Vice President Gore, and I’ll tell you that the level of dishonesty in this administration is reaching historic proportions. Let me tell you now what I’m talking about. They say that they want to cut gun crime, yet prosecutions of felons with guns, violent juveniles with guns, felons trying to buy guns and prohibited persons with guns is down 50% in this administration from previous administrations. We’re talking about the laws we all support; the laws that say felons can’t have guns, and drug dealers with guns, if you catch them, go to jail for 10 to 20 years. Yet the administration has cut prosecutions, according to every single study. Everyone admits this. They even admit it. Fifty percent.

Let’s look at what that means for one city, Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital. Federal enclave. Big crime rate. Big murder rate. Do you know how many gun prosecutions they did in our nation’s capital in the entire year last year? Two. They sent two people to jail under the federal gun laws. We had a woman in Washington, D.C., killed not long ago. She’s sitting in her house and a bullet comes through the window from a drug dealer out on the street and kills her. The article in the Washington Post said she was scared to go outside because drug dealers with guns ruled the street in Washington, D.C. And yet they did two prosecutions in that city. It’s a level of dishonesty that’s unbelievable coming out of this administration.

Nationally, the statistics they put out reveal the dirty, shameful secret of this administration. They have collapsed totally in the enforcement of the laws on the books in this country regarding firearms. They have surrendered our streets and they are getting people killed every day as a result of it. The statistics prove it. Six thousand occurrences of illegal guns in schools, they prosecute six. Juveniles have guns in this country illegally, and in the last two years they prosecute 11 nationwide. Providing guns to felons, they prosecute 37 cases nationwide the last two years. They totally ignore felons with gun-possession cases. They even ignore drug dealers with gun-possession cases. And, you know you can’t get them to touch a prohibited person who tries to buy a gun and commits a new federal felony right under the federal government’s nose. There is no way they will prosecute that case.

Here in Los Angeles, Janet Reno’s own office, the U.S. Attorney’s office, said publicly that gun cases are such a low-level priority as to not even warrant prosecution. It would be a national scandal if we didn’t have such an absurd linking in this country of media dishonesty and political agendas. And you know what I’m talking about: banning guns, political dishonesty and political agendas. This should be a national scandal. And yet because of the media and the political agendas linking up, the media won’t report it. They cover it up.

A new study just released from Syracuse University shows federal prosecutions are at the lowest level in most of the cities that are actually bringing nuisance suits against the firearms manufacturers. San Francisco, on prosecutions of the bad guys with guns, the people killing other citizens, ranks dead last in the United States. Out of 100 we’re talking about here, San Francisco is dead last. Sacramento ranks eighty-nine. Los Angeles ranks eighty-seven. Chicago, eighty-six. Bridgeport, Connecticut, ranks eighty-five, and Newark, New Jersey, ranks eighty-four. It’s ironic that the cities suing the gun manufacturers are the same cities not prosecuting the bad guys with guns, the drug dealers with guns. And do you know where the state of California ranks on that list? The state of California, against every other state in the country, ranks dead last.

And it gets worse. The Clinton-Gore-Reno administration gives lip service to the only program in America that’s actually having an immediate dramatic impact on cutting crime. I’m talking about Project Exile in Virginia. You may have seen a little bit about it. Richmond had become the third most violent city in the country until citizens there decided every time they caught a felon with a gun, every time they caught a drug dealer with a gun, every time they caught a violent juvenile with a gun or trying to buy a gun, they were going to prosecute the case. They cut murder in that town by 28 percent from this year to last year, 32 percent from last year to the year before. The NRA has put over $1 million into supporting that program nationally, and they have turned things around by not passing one new law but just prosecuting a culture of violence into an atmosphere of peace.

And yet what does the Administration do when Project Exile comes up? They ridicule it. Eric Culder, the Deputy U.S. Attorney, calls it a “cookie-cutter approach” to solving crime that they can’t be a part of. The President does a radio address giving it lip service one day before the U.S. Senate is going to hold a hearing on the complete collapse of enforcement of existing gun laws on the books. But then over the next several months, the Administration doesn’t lift a finger to expand that program and put it into other cities. It actually fought what the NRA is doing on Capitol Hill, trying to get funding to put that program in other cities around the country. They have even held meetings over at the Department of Justice on how to deflect support for Project Exile, if it starts to arise in the United States Congress. Their own consulting firm at the Justice Department did a study of Richmond and Project Exile. Do you know what the recommendation was? Take that program nationwide and put it in every American city if you want to cut violence. You know what the Justice Department did with that study? They deleted the recommendation before they released it.

They haven’t been able to kill Exile because the police support it, the prosecutors support it, the African-American community supports it, the NRA supports it, the citizens of Richmond support it, and it is making people safe in that town. The genie is out of the bottle. They can’t put it back in that one city, but, boy, they can sure fight to make sure that no more lives are saved like those we have saved in Richmond, Virginia. And listen to this, this is why I talk about a media scandal in terms of covering this data up. This is according to the Syracuse study: Richmond, Virginia, has more prosecutions of the bad guys with guns under its gun laws than California, New Jersey, and New York combined. Three big states, and little Richmond, Virginia, is doing more prosecutions.

There is a level of dishonesty in this Administration and this Justice Department that is breathtaking. The Puerto Rican terrorists, I don’t want to go into that in a big way, but let me tell you something: If guns are your priority, stopping criminals with guns and stopping crime, these guys broke every gun law in the book. Machine gun laws, sawed-off shotgun laws, filing-off-the-serial-numbers laws. Does that bother the President when he says, “Hey, back to the streets, guys. We’ll turn you loose, the heck with that.” What about sending a message to other potential people here when you violate the law?

Let me tell you how we got into this sorry state. This Administration had a deliberate strategy from the day it was elected to call for additional laws but at the same time collapse the prosecutions and enforcement of laws on the books. One of the first things Janet Reno did when she got in there was send a memo out to all the U.S. Attorneys in the country. It said if you catch somebody carrying guns and selling drugs on the street and you want to plea bargain that down, feel free and go ahead and do it. That reversed the policy of the previous Administration. The Office of Management and Budget had a memo in 1994 that laid it out: they are going to collapse prosecutions because they don’t think that makes a lot of sense financially, but they are going to concentrate instead on cutting off guns coming into society at the source. Give me a break. They could try to do that for the next thousand years, and a criminal will always be able to get a gun.

They came up with—this is their words, not mine, as unbelievable as it sounds—this ‘top shark versus guppies’ theory, trying to justify their collapsing prosecution theory, so they float this idea. We’re not going to prosecute very many people, but the people we will prosecute are going to be ‘top sharks,’ and we’re going to give them more jail time and increased sentences (they haven’t, if you check the Syracuse study) and we’re going to lay off the guppies. Well, let me tell you who the guppies are. The guppies are the drug dealers with guns, the Bloods and the Crips in Los Angeles. They are the felons with guns, the felons trying to buy guns. Let me give you the names of a few guppies they could care less about: Kip Kinkle, the kid who did the shooting in Oregon, Ben Smith, the racist killer in Illinois. A prohibited person walked in, committed a new federal felony, and walked right out of the store to go about his business. We don’t want to fool around with guppies. Buford Furrow, he’s a the kind of guppy that they have no interest in taking off the street if they caught him.

What do you say to a family when a son or a daughter is killed on the street? “Hey, your son or daughter was killed by a guppy we didn’t want off the street.” This is crazy. Then they say, “Well, the state and the local folks are doing it,” and yet we all know the truth. At the state level, even if you get convicted, it’s a four to a five year sentence. You are back out on bail immediately. Chances are, you plea bargained down immediately. You never got into the system to begin with. There is all kinds of judge-shopping, and the state court systems are in shambles.

Of a U.S. Justice Department budget that has increased in the Clinton administration the last seven years from $9.6 billion to $14.8 billion, do you want to know how much money the Administration set aside for prosecuting these bad guys? Five million dollars nationwide. You can’t do a couple of cities on $5 million. President Clinton is willing to come up with $15 million for a gun buyback program, hang out a shingle on the White House saying we buy guns. A lot of good that does in terms of stopping crime. If someone wants to do whatever they want with their personal property, I don’t care. But let’s not kid ourselves about stopping crime with a buyback program.

It’s not a question of prison space. If the question were space, what they ought to do is lay off simple drug possession, let the states and local counties do that, and let the feds go after people that are killing people. But that’s not the issue, and we would rather have a few federal prisons overcrowded than have people dead in the morgue. So it’s really a question of will.

Here’s what I propose today. I propose to President Clinton, and to Al Gore, and to Janet Reno these three things: First, join with the NRA, and let’s immediately put Project Exile into Washington, D.C., a federal enclave that we can make safer immediately by doing that and save lives everyday. Second, help the NRA lobby obtain or set aside from your $14.8 billion Department of Justice budget, $50 million to put Project Exile in every American city. Every cop in America will be in favor of that, I assure you. Third, tomorrow or the next day or even a week from now, send a letter to every U.S. Attorney in the country ordering them to bring 10 prosecutions a month against felons with guns, violent juveniles with guns, felons trying to buy guns, and drug dealers with guns, and street gangs with guns and if it’s a violent city, order them to bring 20 prosecutions a month.

You will immediately take 12,000 of the most violent people off the streets of America and you will bring immediate dramatic safety to the citizens of this country and the NRA will back you, Mr. President, every step of the way on that. Every cop knows it will reduce crime and save lives. And I sure don’t think it’s too much to ask, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President and particularly Janet Reno, to enforce the existing law on the books. That’s all we are asking. The polls show this is what America wants. America doesn’t want more laws. What America wants is enforcement of what is on the books. That is in every poll that’s taken. Americans also believe they ought to be able to own a gun if they want. It ought to be their choice, not some politician’s. And how many times have we heard the phrase “save one life”? Well, I can assure everyone in this room that this program will not only save one life. If we do those three things, we will save thousands. Thousands of Americans will be alive if we can get the Administration to do this. I don’t expect them to do it. We’re dealing with dishonesty, as I’ve said here, of historic proportion.

So let me tell you just briefly before I conclude what’s really going on here. What’s really going on—the real objective and the real target—is that a group of people want to redefine our country’s freedoms. They want to dismantle brick by brick the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. That’s the goal, that’s the end zone for them; that’s what they’re after. They think they’re smarter than the most powerful declaration of freedom in the world.

This isn’t about President Clinton’s attempt to make and force every American that owns a gun to put that into federal computers and register it, and Americans have a gut reaction against it. It is about Al Gore’s attempt to require every American to obtain a federal I.D. card before you can own a gun, and I assure you Americans are against that. And it’s not even about Janet Reno’s attempt to require government tests before you can own a gun, and you can bet no one will ever get through that test, I can assure you. This isn’t about Bill Bradley’s ban on all handguns, totally forgetting 2.5 million people use a gun to defend themselves from criminals who ought to be in jail that we don’t put in jail. It’s not even about child-safety locks, or gun-show checks, juvenile Brady bills or Diane Feinstein’s ban on importing magazine clips.

Let me tell you why I say that. The Republican bill in the House of Representatives, joined by about 50 senior Democrats, provided for child-safety locks on every sale. It provided a check on every sale at every gun show. And do you know what the White House did? You know what the White House supporters on Capitol Hill did? They killed the bill because it didn’t have the extreme stuff in it that they were really after.

No it’s not about any of that. What this is about—and think about this, because it’s at the bottom of it all—it’s about the inevitable knock on your door, two to three years from now. The Second Amendment has never been under greater assault. They are trying to disarm a law-abiding free people in this country. And do you know something? When I used to say that two and three years ago, people laughed. But they’re not smiling and they’re not laughing anymore. What they are doing is joining the National Rifle Association. We’ve grown by 100,000 members in the last three months. We’re in the midst right now of the largest membership increase in the history of the National Rifle Association. We’re over 3 million and we will be at 4 million by election day, November 2000.

Americans are coming our way because they understand what the agenda of the other side is. This document right here, that’s what these people are really after—the Constitution of the United States of America. That’s their target. They ought to be honest enough to admit it and just come right out and say it. What they do is hide behind additional laws that even if they get in they have no intention of enforcing. What they really want is to redefine freedom in this country. And they want to redefine the way we structure our rights in this country. They think they’re more powerful than the single most powerful declaration of freedom in the history of the world. They are arrogant. They think they have better ideas and are smarter than Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Tom Paine, Patrick Henry and George Mason.

No, this isn’t about licensing; it isn’t about registration; it’s not about any of that. It’s about a creeping contagion to disarm free people, to restructure the very foundations on which this country is built. You see it in other countries, from Britain to Australia to Canada to South America. And by the way, a criminal with cold cash can still get a gun in any of those countries within half an hour. What this is about is disarming a law-abiding free people in the last country where citizens have a right to bear arms, the last bastion of freedom. And they are willing to rewrite the Constitution of the United States to do it.

Let me conclude by reading to you out of the October issue of Harper’s Magazine, the very ending of it: “So why must we subordinate ourselves to a 208-year-old law that, if the latest scholarship is correct, is contrary to what the democratic majority believes is the best interest? Why can’t we create the kind of society we want rather than what they wanted? They are dead and buried and will not be around to suffer the consequences, we the living will.” And then they go on to say—it gets better, but it really tells you what this whole debate is about—“In other words, the Constitution’s hold on our society is so complete that it controls the way we discuss the debate, even the way we think. Americans are unable to conceive of an alternative framework, to think outside of the box. Our country is free to change the Constitution when it becomes necessary. Other countries are, in fact, changing theirs. With the exception of Luxembourg, Norway, and Great Britain, there is not one advanced nation that has not thoroughly revamped its Constitution since 1900; if they can do it why can’t we, why must Americans remain slaves of the past?”

There it is, right there. That’s what they are after. You know what I say? This is what I say, [ripping magazine] and as my good friend Charlton Heston says, “…from my cold dead hands!” And to Al Gore and Bill Clinton and Janet Reno, I’ll say this: A free people, free Americans, will see you at the polls on Election Day 2000.

Thank you very much.