Address to the 2009 National Rifle Association 138th Annual Meeting
Washington, D.C.óU.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will deliver the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the 2009 National Rifle Association 138th Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, Friday, May 15, 2009 at 1:30 pm PT.
"Thank you. Itís a pleasure to be here today. Thank you for inviting me. Iíd like to begin by thanking all members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) for your endorsement last year. I was, and remain very proud and grateful to have had your support. And while things didnít work out exactly as I had hoped they would, I have many reasons to be thankful for the experience. First among them, is the support, encouragement, and labor of so many people, who didnít care how long the odds were or how steep a climb we had, but believed there were principles worth fighting for at stake. Your endorsement, of course, was of great value to our campaign. It also meant a great deal to me personally. Thank you. I am in your debt.
I promise you, I intend to honor that debt by remaining worthy of the support you gave me, and standing with the members of the National Rifle Association as you defend our civil liberties and resist unnecessary encroachments on them by government.
There are some, otherwise ardent, civil libertarians, who prefer to overlook that gun ownership is among those liberties that deserve a passionate defense. For reasons that seem more political than constitutional, they consider the right to bear arms to be the only amendment in the Bill of Rights that time and circumstances has rendered unnecessary and undeserving of protection. Of course, attempting to remove from the Constitution an amendment they consider archaic would be a waste of their time and resources. So they inferred from the original intent of the framers that the Second Amendment is unique among those carefully specified liberties because it was intended as a collective but not an individual right.
Last year, in the landmark D.C. versus Heller decision, the United States Supreme Court correctly, though narrowly, decided the question. They found the right to keep and bear arms to be an individual right. The Second Amendment is now, as one observer put it, "a normal part of the Bill of Rights," and the implications of the decision go beyond preventing local governments from effectively instituting a complete ban on hand gun ownership, as was the case in the District of Columbia. The right has substance and any restrictions of it must pass constitutional scrutiny.
I was proud to sign an amicus brief on behalf of Heller, and welcomed the Courtís decision. But, as a realist, I know that a 5-4 decision will not permanently discourage Second Amendment opponents from seeking other ways to circumvent the Bill of Rights. As you know, authorities in the District of Columbia are busy trying to thwart the Courtís ruling, and place new and onerous restrictions on the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens. And as I noted, it was a 5-4 decision, and with one vacancy on the Court already announced and others likely to occur in President Obamaís term, defenders of the Second Amendment will need to remain vigilant.
In America, the constitutional restraint on power is as fundamental as the exercise of power, and often more so. Yet, the Framers knew these restraints would not always be observed. They knew that abuses of power and efforts to encroach on individual rights would arise and need to be firmly checked. Their design for democracy was drawn from their experience with tyranny. A suspicion of power is ingrained in both the letter and spirit of the American Constitution.
The executive, legislative, and judicial branches are often wary of one another's excesses, seeking to keep each other within bounds. The framers knew exactly what they were doing, and the system of checks and balances rarely disappoints.
As a candidate, President Obama expressed the view that the Second Amendment is an individual right. I hope any Supreme Court nominee he submits to the Senate for confirmation shares his view. And, I believe the Senate has a responsibility to determine whether they do.
Federal courts are charged with applying the Constitution and laws of our country to each case at hand. But a court is hardly competent to check the abuses of other branches of government if it cannot control its own judicial activism.
Second Amendment detractors would like to be spared the inconveniences of the political processóthe necessity to win hearts, minds, and majorities to their cause. We have a responsibility to make sure they do so; to insist they take their case to the people and let the people decide, and not have recourse to frustrate the will of the people and override the Constitution by relying on jurists to do their job for them; judges who consider the right to keep and bear arms an obstacle to social progress in modern America, and ignore generations of legal wisdom and precedent in their efforts to re-interpret and restrict it.
The efforts of the NRA and other defenders of the Second Amendment have met with considerable success in recent years. Among the more important successes was the defeat of legislation intended to bankrupt gun manufacturers by holding them legally responsible for the actions of lawbreakers. Had the supporters of that effort prevailed, they would not only have abridged a constitutional right, but driven the costs of guns and ammunition sky high, cost thousands of American jobs, and forced government and military customers to buy from foreign sources.
No success in Washington is ever truly permanent, though. There are battles still to be fought and won today, and I have no doubt there will be others in the near future.
As you are all aware, Attorney General Holder and Secretary Clinton have called for a ban on guns based on their cosmetic features, which doesnít inspire much confidence the Administration is genuine in its pledges of respect for the rights of gun owners. Semi-automatic firearms are used by millions of law-abiding shooters and sportsman, and I donít believe the unfortunate fact that criminals have used them in the commission of crimes is sufficient reason to abridge the rights of law-abiding citizens. It only denies these weapons to Americans who use them lawfully and responsibly. People who commit violent crimes obviously donít have any scruples about violating gun laws. I voted against the original ban on so-called "assault weapons." I voted to ensure the ban ended after ten years. And if the ban is re-introduced in Congress, I will vote against it again.
I want to thank you all for convening here in Phoenix. We appreciate the business, and I hope my fellow Arizonans have done all we can to ensure your decision to hold your convention in our state was a wise one. I hope many of you take some time while here in Arizona to visit one of Godís greatest creations, the Grand Canyon. Earlier this week the Senate provided gun owners who visit our national parks a resounding victory by voting 67-29 to ensure law-abiding visitors in national parks, such as the Grand Canyon, can possess a firearm in accordance with state and federal law.
Before I leave I want to discuss briefly a problem that is of obvious and great concern to Arizonans, and all Americansóthe increasing violence on our border with Mexico.
Because our border isnít secure and the demand for illegal drugs in the United States is so high, the activities of Mexican drug cartels are threatening the security of the United States, and particularly border-states such as Arizona, more than they ever have before. The City of Phoenix is now the kidnapping capital of the United States and second only to Mexico City for the most kidnappings in any city in the world. Property crimes and car thefts have increased in many of Arizonaís border towns and cities.
Few border cities have experienced the level of fear that the citizens of Nogales, Arizona have felt from the rising violence of Mexican drug cartels. Nogales straddles the border of Sonora, Mexico and the State of Arizona. Its residents have witnessed several gun battles break out in broad daylight between Mexican police and the drug cartels. In August, just one block away from the U.S. Consulate, three men wearing ski masks emerged from a car with AK-47 assault guns and opened fire, killing several men. In October, ten men were killed during a deadly shootout and chase between heavily-armed drug gang members and Mexican law enforcement as they sped through the city streets just a couple of miles from the border during the early morning while many were commuting to work. The Intelligence Bureau commander for the Arizona Department of Public Safety said, 'It was such a heavy firefight that [Mexican] police were actually calling for reinforcements...and asking for ammunition from the American side....'
Mexican President Calderon has bravely confronted the cartels, and under his determined leadership, Mexico is literally fighting for its existence as a nation governed by the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States must do all it can to assist President Calderon in his efforts against the drug cartels. The security and prosperity of Mexico is essential to the security and prosperity of our own country. We share a border, our economies are intertwined and we are major trading partners with each other.
But letís not use this terrible problem for both Mexico and the United States as an excuse to advance a separate agenda, aimed at restricting the rights of Americans. The claim made by Administration officials that 90% of the arms seized from the Mexican drug cartels came from the United States is not true. More accurate is the statistic that 90% of the guns the Mexican Government has asked our government to trace are of U.S. origin. But it is not 90% of all arms seized. The fact is that weapons manufactured in the United States are actually stamped, ĎMade in the USA,í which allows them to be more easily traced than those manufactured in other countries.
We can and should do more to crack down on the illegal transfer to Mexico of weapons acquired in the United States, which is a violation of both U.S. and Mexican law. But that doesnít require us to restrict the rights of law-abiding American gun owners. Again, the United States must do all it can to assist President Calderon in his war against the drug cartels. I hope the NRA will continue to work with the Administration, Congress, and the states to prevent flow of illegal weapons into Mexico by continuing to promote legal gun ownership and sales in the U.S. while fighting against any limitation on Americansí Second Amendment rights.
It should be noted that any effort to restrict gun ownership in the U.S. will not stop Mexican cartels from acquiring guns and ammunition from other countries, just as the drug cartels have done in their acquisition of advanced weapons such as anti-tank missiles, rocket propelled grenades, fully automatic machine guns, mortars, and even IEDs. I donít need to tell this audience that none of these weapons are available for civilian sale in the United States.
In closing, let me express again my gratitude to you for choosing Phoenix as your meeting site; for allowing me to address you, and for your endorsement of my campaign last year. I wish Iíd been successful, but the fact that I was not doesnít diminish my appreciation for your support or my responsibility to help you defend the rights of good, law-abiding Americans.
Freedom and self-reliance are the ethics that made this good country great, and they are at the core of the NRAís mission. I am proud to support your efforts, and honored by your company.
Thank you, very much."