Charlton Heston once said: “Those dead old white guys who invented this country, knew what they were talking about.” So often, all we need to inspire us for future fights is to look to the examples of the past. Our founding fathers and former leaders charted a visionary path for our country. They created an exceptional experiment of Freedom and personal responsibility that would withstand centuries of storms and challenges. To keep what they built, we must be people who act on values and character rather than personal benefit.
So much of who we are is determined by how we are raised. I didn’t grow up in politics. We didn’t talk about politics – we lived them. We had a gun cabinet in our living room, a shotgun in every pickup and tractor. Our family vacations were hunting trips. And long before I ever ran for office, I became a lifetime member of the NRA.
My dad taught us life lessons and common sense during our hunting trips. As soon as we were old enough to ride a horse, he would take us hunting and pack us by horseback 20 miles in the Big Horns to hunt elk.
I didn’t always know it then, but those hunting trips gave me the confidence to be a problem solver. For instance, I remember being around 10 years old and miles from camp in the high country when dad turned to me and said, “hunt your way back to camp” as he disappeared over the ridge.
Now, to a ten-year-old girl, this was terrifying. As strange noises and darkness fell, I had to rely on my instincts and horse to find my way back to our tent. Years later, mom shared with me that dad followed me at a distance to make sure I was safe.
Now, before you go and get all soft and tender hearted on me, I want you to know he was also the one making the bear noise which just about scared me to death. But it made me stronger. It made me realize I could conquer challenges. It made me who I am today, the first female Governor of the state of South Dakota.
Here today with me is my husband Bryon, who has been with me every step of the way. Thank you for our amazing family and all the support. Speaking of family… can you believe I’m a grandma? Not just once either, but twice. For those of you with grandchildren you know, they are why we get up each day and continue to fight for our values. Little Miss Addie and Branch have brought us so much joy. And Miss Addie, who is almost two years old, already has both a shotgun and a rifle! Welcome to South Dakota.
There is a very famous quote that says, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Some would look at what is happening here in America today and call the times “unprecedented” or “unforeseen.” I would say the exact opposite. It all sounds, looks, and feels tragically “familiar.” We have been here before.
A country arguing over policies, a public discouraged and dismayed at the lack of public discourse, violence in the streets and in our schools, families grieving their children and loved ones that were destroyed by a deranged maniac for no reason, and a White House so hell-bent on grabbing power and control of your life they will do anything and stop at nothing to take it. Even take away your last tool of defense.
The Second Amendment is about deterrence. It is about ensuring the Government respects the rights and liberty of citizens. “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.”
Those 27 words are freedom’s last line of defense. The founders understood deeply that without an armed citizenry, authentic freedom could not and would not survive.
How did they know this? What were their circumstances? What did they know about human nature and the temptation to seize power? Did they know how fragile freedom could be? What were they drawing on? First, their own experience.
The founders knew the country would never have survived the revolutionary war if the colonists hadn’t owned their own weapons.
The very first battles of the Revolutionary War, the Battles of Lexington & Concord, started when 800 expertly trained British soldiers came to seize weapons from the colonists. The Americans were untrained and had only their own personal muskets and pistols to fight back.
One American named Samuel Whittemore was 78 years old. Think about that – in the 1770s, average life expectancy was less than 40. As the British were retreating from the battle, Samuel hid behind a wall on his property. He ambushed the British by himself. He shot one with his personal musket, then shot two more with his personal dueling pistols. All three died of their wounds.
For his heroism, Samuel was shot in the cheek, bayoneted six times, and clubbed repeatedly. The British left him to die, but he refused to die. He got medical treatment, then he lived another 18 years. He lived to see American Independence secured; to see the ratification of the Constitution; to see George Washington elected as the first President of the United States. And when the Revolutionary War was over, Samuel Whittemore would go down in history as the oldest, perhaps the bravest, colonial militiaman.
That is how the American people won the Revolutionary War. The Continentals challenged the infantry of the British Empire with the same firearms they used to hunt squirrels and deer and feed their families. Men like Samuel Whittemore did not ask for permission from their government to own those firearms. They didn’t need it. God gave them that right. Samuel defended his own personal property with his own personal firearms. He defended his own Freedom.
Ladies and gentlemen, we don’t know what hard is. We don’t have an oppressive foreign government marching across our land and threatening to take everything from us. But we all have our part to play to defend our Liberty.
God gave you those Liberties. God gave you the right to defend yourselves and your family. Our government recognizes that right. But we do not have to ask permission to defend it. Each of us must be as bold and as brave as Samuel Whittemore. It doesn’t matter if we’re 18 or 78.
What else did the Founding generation understand? They knew human nature.
Writing in 1775, Thomas Paine laid it out clearly: “While avarice and ambition have a place in the heart of man, the weak will become prey to the strong. The history of every age and nation establishes these truths, and facts need but little arguments when they prove themselves.”
Today, the future looks uncertain. I would say clarity can be found in studying the past and striving to do better. Let’s be teachable. The National Rifle Association has leaders who stand in the vortex for us today, such as Wayne and Susan.
We see them and their family walk through fire for us, and we are grateful. But we should also look at headlines from 25 years ago and see what we can learn for today.
A Washington Post article dated June 9, 1998, summarizes where we stood then in this battle for freedom but also reflects much of today’s reality.
The Post reported the following:
“The National Rifle Association installed Charlton Heston as it’s new President today and loudly applauded his pledge to steer the organization back to the political mainstream from what Heston described as the ‘fringe’ of American life.
The choice of Heston was seen in large part as a response to public relations problems for the NRA that have intensified recently because of several school shootings and rising calls for stricter guns laws opposed by the group.”
Having the right messenger matters. Why am I here today? Why do I boldly support the NRA?
I probably don’t look like the “traditional” NRA member. The media would lead us to believe the NRA is made up of Old White guys… Well, let me tell you something, I AM THE NRA!
Our daughters, our granddaughters, every American is the NRA. I didn’t know I could be a hunter until I saw my grandma was a hunter. And she was good.
The Post went on to say that Heston rose to power in the NRA because of the need to soften the organization’s public image.
Calling the school shootings “a child issue, not a gun issue” Heston reasserted the NRA’s long-standing position that violence grows from unraveling family values and weak prosecutors and judges. But he also added a new twist: He called on the White House, which acknowledged many gun violations go unprosecuted for lack of resources, to commit the Justice Department to prosecuting every federal gun law violation in one major city. This he said would include attempts by felons to buy guns, which are rarely prosecuted except in combination with violent crimes.
Heston pulled no punches in his first day as President. Referring to the Second Amendment, he said “Those dead old white guys who invented this country, knew what they were talking about.”
Again, this article is from 25 years ago, yet the conversation is so relevant for today. What if prosecutors actually did their jobs instead of going on the political attack? What if the laws we have today were actually enforced? What if when tragedies happen, families gathered together, bowed their heads, and prayed for wisdom and discernment on how to heal hearts and minds, rather than debate the methods used by those in society who do harm.
Our problems are not new, yet the threat is greater. Every time our country stands in the path of danger, it’s always the patriots who first hear the call. Even the most common man deserves uncommon freedom. And we the patriots must be resolved to take action.
Why do the liberals and Joe Biden want to take our guns? Because it will make it easier for them to then infringe on all other rights. As the late, great Justice Scalia wrote in the Heller decision, “History showed that the way tyrants had eliminated a militia consisting of all the able-bodied men was not by banning the militia, but simply by taking away the people’s arms, enabling a select militia or standing army to suppress political opponents.”
But Biden hasn’t done that yet. Why is that? Why haven’t they achieved their goal? Because of you. Because of each and every one of you — and because of the NRA. Together, we have successfully held off federal legislation that would infringe on our fundamental constitutional right to keep and bear arms. We have kept our rights from being infringed.
In the last few years, we’ve seen government overstep its authority more than ever before. I’ve said that China didn’t just export COVID to the world. They exported communist lockdowns as seemingly the only way of stopping it. In fact, until South Dakota refused to issue any lockdowns, I don’t know if political leaders even realized that there was another option.
I was shocked at how quickly people gave up their Freedoms. Politicians closed churches, so people willingly gave up their Freedom of Religion. Politicians said you couldn’t gather in groups, so people willingly gave up their Freedom of Assembly. Politicians worked with social media companies to stifle dissent, so people willingly gave up their Freedom of Speech.
I think the American people could learn a thing or two from the NRA. This is not a group of people who gives up their God-given Constitutional rights willingly.
During the pandemic, I spent more time in the great outdoors. I needed a break from the fear and paranoia on television and in the newspapers. So my family would relax at a cabin or go fishing or pheasant hunting.
One day, I made a video of me shooting a pheasant. Then I turned to the camera and said “Less COVID, more hunting.” And people loved it! I was a little embarrassed though, because it took me three shots to drop that bird. It wasn’t my best day shooting.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but PETA and the liberal media came unglued. They could not believe that I would say “less COVID, more hunting.” I was confused. Did they want more COVID or less hunting?
Since then, we have had less COVID, thank God. And we have had plenty more hunting. In fact, South Dakota has the best pheasant hunting in the world! If you haven’t come to enjoy it with us, then you really should.
South Dakota’s greatest asset is our people. Our state motto is “Under God, the People Rule.” While enduring many challenges over the past several years, we have worked together to turn those challenges into opportunities. Our state is thriving as a result of embracing Liberty and personal responsibility.
We are setting the standard as the most 2nd Amendment friendly state in the nation. The very first bill that I signed as governor guarantees Constitutional Carry for all law-abiding South Dakotans. I signed legislation to block state and local governments from using an emergency declaration as an excuse to infringe on 2nd Amendment rights. We strengthened our “Stand Your Ground” law. We updated the definition of “loaded firearm” to mean if a round is chambered, making it easier to respond in situations where seconds count. And we made South Dakota the first state in America to not charge a fee for a concealed carry permit – and we’ll even pay for your federal background check.
While leadership in Washington, DC fails to deliver meaningful solutions for the nation, our state will take action. South Dakota enjoys the strongest economy in the nation, the lowest unemployment, and unprecedented economic growth. Make no mistake. Freedom generated these blessings.
Winston Churchill once said, “Never give in, never never never… except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Here, my honor and good sense require me to continue to fight for Freedom, and that’s what I will do.
As I look around this room, I see resolute faces prepared to stand up for honor and good sense. You are prepared to defend our right to keep and bear arms. I also see a media in the back of the room who thinks that we are crazy for doing so. They are prepared to shame us and demonize us. I know that they will attack me for giving this speech. But if they think that is going to stop me, then they weren’t paying attention during the pandemic.
But it’s not just the media and big government that are attacking our rights. Now, we have seen banking institutions go after industries they disagree with… threatening to withhold funding, cancel loans, or holding them to a different standard than how the left is treated. None have been more impacted than those who support the Second Amendment. Well, not on my watch. I won’t stand for it, not in South Dakota.
Today, I will sign an Executive Order to protect the God-given right to keep and bear arms from being infringed upon by financial institutions. My Executive Order, effective immediately, blocks state agencies from contracting with large banks that discriminate against firearm-related industries.
In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison. He talked about how committed he was to Freedom. He made this point in Latin, but it translates as “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”
May we all leave here today inspired by our history and the blessings you enjoy. As well as the burden of responsibility that rests on your shoulders.
Never give in… Never, never, never. Our Freedom is in your hands.