Mr. President, I appear on the floor to speak about a provision of the
Constitution of our country that has been under nearly constant attack for 8
years. In fact, we heard on the floor this morning two Senators speak about
provisions in law that would alter a constitutional right. The provision I am
talking about is part of our Bill of Rights-- the first 10 amendments to our
Constitution--which protect our most basic rights from being stripped away by an
overly zealous government, including rights that all Americans hold dear:
The freedom to worship according to one's conscience; The freedom to speak or
to write whatever we might think; The freedom to criticize our Government; And,
the freedom to assemble peacefully. Among the safeguards of these fundamental
rights, we find the Second Amendment. Let me read it clearly: A well regulated
Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the
people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
I want to repeat that.
The second amendment of our Constitution says very clearly that 'A well
regulated Militia' is 'necessary' for the 'security of a free State,' and that
'the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.'
What we heard this morning was an effort to infringe upon that right.
Some--even of my colleagues--will read what I have just quoted from our
Constitution quite differently. They might read 'A well regulated Militia,' and
stop there and declare that 'the right of the people to keep and bear Arms'
actually means that it is a right of our Government to keep and bear arms
because they associate the militia with the government. Yet, under this
standard, the Bill of Rights would protect only the right of a government to
speak, or the right of a government to criticize itself, if you were taking that
same argument and transposing it over the first amendment. In fact, the Bill of
Rights protects the rights of people from being infringed upon by
Government--not the other way around.
Of course, we know that our Founding Fathers in their effort to ratify the
Constitution could not convince the citizens to accept it until the Bill of
Rights was established to assure the citizenry that we were protecting the
citizens from Government instead of government from the citizens.
Others say that the Second Amendment merely protects hunting and sport
shooting. They see shooting competitions and hunting for food as the only
legitimate uses of guns, and, therefore, conclude that the Second Amendment is
no impediment to restricting gun use to those purposes.
You can hear it in the way President Clinton assures hunters that his gun
control proposals that will not trample on recreation-- though his proposals
certainly walk all over their rights.
In fact, the Second Amendment does not merely protect sport shooting and
hunting, though it certainly does that.Nor does the second amendment exist to
protect the government's right to bear arms. The framers of our Constitution
wrote the Second Amendment with a greater purpose.
They made the Second Amendment the law of the land because it has something
very particular to say about the rights of every man and every woman, and about
the relationship of every man and every woman to his or her Government. That is:
The first right of every human being, the right of self-defense.
Let me repeat that: The first right of every human being is the right of
self-defense. Without that right, all other rights are meaningless. The right of
self-defense is not something the government bestows upon its citizens. It is an
inalienable right, older than the Constitution itself. It existed prior to
government and prior to the social contract of our Constitution.
It is the right that government did not create and therefore it is a right
that under our Constitution the government simply cannot take away. The framers
of our Constitution understood this clearly. Therefore, they did not merely
acknowledge that the right exists. They denied Congress the power to infringe
upon that right.
Under the social contract that is the Constitution of the United States, the
American people have told Congress explicitly that we do not have the authority
to abolish the American people's right to defend themselves. Further, the
framers said not only does the Congress not have the power to abolish that
right, but Congress may not even infringe upon that right. That is what our
Constitution says. That is what the Second Amendment clearly lays out. Our
Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment to tell us that a free state cannot
exist if the people are denied the right or the means to defend themselves.
Let me repeat that because it is so fundamental to our freedom. A free state
cannot exist, our free state of the United States collectively, cannot exist
without the right of the people to defend themselves. This is the meaning of the
Second Amendment. Over the years a lot of our citizens and many politicians have
tried to nudge that definition around. But contrary to what the media and the
President say, the right to keep and bear arms is as important today as it was
200 years ago.
Every day in this country thousands of peaceful, law-abiding Americans use
guns to defend themselves, their families, and their property. Oftentimes,
complete strangers are protected by that citizen who steps up and stops the
thief or the stalker or the rapist or the murderer from going at that citizen.
According to the FBI, criminals used guns in 1998 380,000 times across
America. Yet research indicates that peaceful, law- abiding Americans, using
their constitutional right, used a gun to prevent 2.5 million crimes in America
that year and nearly every year. In fact, I believe the benefits of protecting
the people's right to keep and bear arms far outweighs the destruction wrought
by criminals and firearms accidents. The Centers for Disease Control report
32,000 Americans died from firearm injuries in 1997; under any estimate, that is
Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control do not keep data on the number
of lives that were saved when guns were used in a defensive manner. Yet if we
were to survey the public every year, we would find 400,000 Americans report
they used a gun in a way that almost certainly saved either their life or
someone else's. Is that estimate too high? Perhaps. I hope it is, because every
time a life is saved from violence, that means that someone was threatening a
life with violence. But that number would have to be over 13 times too high for
our opponents to be correct when they say that guns are used to kill more often
than they are used to protect. What they have been saying here and across
America simply isn't true and the facts bear that out.
We are not debating the tragedy. We are debating facts at this moment. They
cannot come up with 2.5 million gun crimes. But clearly, through surveys, we can
come up with 2.5 million crimes thwarted every year when someone used a gun in
defense of themselves or their property. In many cases, armed citizens not only
thwarted crime, but they held the suspect until the authorities arrived and
placed that person in custody.
Stories of people defending themselves with guns do not make the nightly
news. It just simply isn't news in America. It isn't hot. It isn't exciting. It
is American. Sometimes when people act in an American way, it simply isn't
reportable in our country anymore. So the national news media doesn't follow it.
Yet two of the school shootings that have brought gun issues to the forefront
in the last year, in Pearl, MS, and Edinboro, PA, were stopped by peaceful gun
owners using their weapons to subdue the killer until the police arrived. How
did that get missed in the story? It was mentioned once, in passing, and then
ignored as people ran to the floor of the Senate to talk about the tragedy of
the killing. Of course the killing was a tragedy, but it was also heroic that
someone used their constitutional right to save lives in the process.
A third school shooting in Springfield, OR, was stopped because some parents
took time to teach their child the wise use of guns. So when that young man
heard a particular sound coming from the gun, he was able to rush the shooter,
because he knew that gun had run out of ammunition. He was used to guns. He was
around them. He subdued the shooter and saved potentially many other lives. We
have recognized him nationally for that heroic act, that young high school
student of Springfield, OR.
For some reason, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle never want to
tell these stories. They only want to say, after a crisis such as this, 'Pass a
new gun control law and call 9-1-1.' Yet these stories are essential to our
understanding of the right of people to keep and bear arms.
I will share a few of these stories right now. Shawnra Pence, a 29-year-old
mother from Sequim, WA, home alone with one of her children, heard an intruder
break into the house. She took her .9 mm, took her child to the bedroom, and
when the 18-year-old criminal broke into the bedroom, she said, 'Get out of my
house, I have a gun, get out now.' He left and the police caught him. She saved
her life and her child's life. It made one brief story in the Peninsula Daily
news in Sequim, WA.
We have to talk about these stories because it is time America heard the
other side of this debate. There are 2.5 million Americans out there defending
themselves and their property by the use of their constitutional right. In
Cumberland, TN, a 28-year-old Jason McCulley broke into the home of Stanley Horn
and his wife, tied up the couple at knife- point, and demanded to know where the
couple kept some cash. While Mrs. Horn was directing the robber, Mr. Horn
wriggled free from his restraints, retrieved his handgun, shot the intruder, and
then called the police. The intruder, Jason McCulley, subsequently died. If some
Senators on the other side of the aisle had their way, perhaps the Horns would
have been killed and Jason McCulley would have walked away.
Earlier today, we heard the Senator from Illinois and the Senator from
California read the names people killed by guns in America. Some day they may
read the name Jason McCulley. I doubt they will tell you how he died, however,
because it doesn't advance their goal of destroying the Second Amendment. But As
Paul Harvey might say: Now you know the rest of the story.
Every 13 seconds this story is repeated across America. Every 13 seconds in
America someone uses a gun to stop a crime. Why do our opponents never tell
these stories? Why do the enemies of the right to keep and bear arms ignore this
reality that is relived by 2.5 million Americans every year? Why is it that all
we hear from them is, 'Pass a new gun control law, and, by the way, call 9-1-1.'
I encourage all listening today, if you have heard of someone using their
Second Amendment rights to prevent a crime, to save a life, to protect another
life, then send us your story. There are people here who desperately need to
hear this in Washington, right here on Capitol Hill. This is a story that should
be played out every day in the press but isn't. So let's play it out, right here
on the floor of the Senate. Send me those stories from your local newspapers
about that law- abiding citizen who used his constitutional right of self-
defense. Send that story to me, Senator Larry Craig, Washington, DC, 20510, or
send it to your own Senator. Let him or her know the rest of the story of
America's constitutional rights.
Having said all of this, let there be no mistake. Guns are not for everyone.
We restrict children's access to guns and we restrict criminals' access to guns,
but we must not tolerate politicians who tell us that the Second Amendment only
protects the right to hunt. We must not tolerate politicians who infringe upon
our right to defend ourselves from thieves and stalkers and rapists and
murderers. And we must not tolerate the politician who simply says: 'Pass
another gun control law and call 9-1-1.' I yield the floor.