Comments, letters, or Speeches by Charlton Heston
Winning The Cultural War
America's First Freedom

Charlton Heston Says Famous Line Final Time as NRA President

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Charlton Heston Says Famous Line Final Time as NRA President

By Jeff Johnson   CNSNews.com Congressional Bureau Chief   April 27, 2003

Orlando, Fla. (CNSNews.com) - Charlton Heston ended his term as president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) Saturday as he began it, declaring his devotion to the Second Amendment and his love for the other freedoms he believes are protected by the right to keep and bear arms.

"Our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in the name of liberty," he said in a pre-taped address to more than 4,000 NRA members gathered for the group's 132nd annual meeting. "We pledge to preserve it."

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre then presented Heston with a Winchester 1866 "cowboy rifle" in honor of his service.

"Chuck this is a very valuable rifle," LaPierre said. "But I think it's about to become priceless because I know you have something to say to all of us."

Despite being 78 years old and suffering the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, Heston raised the rifle above his head in a hallmark that has become as recognizable as the Academy Award winning actor's portrayal of Moses in "The Ten Commandments." Then he made the statement - for the last time as NRA president - that rallied defenders of gun ownership for the length of his term:

"From my cold, dead hands."

The audience gathered in the Orange County Convention Center rose to their feet in thunderous applause for Heston, who wasn't finished speaking.

"Thank you, thank you, all. Thank you for everything done for me not only today, but through all the years," he said, fighting back tears. "I'm gonna miss you."

Million Mom March Protests NRA Meeting

Outside the building, approximately two dozen staff members and supporters of the "Million Mom March" anti-gun group gathered to protest against the NRA.

"The moms here have assembled to talk about the extremist agenda of the National Rifle Association," said Rob Wilcox, a staff member.

"The activists that are gathering here aren't interested in banning guns," Wilcox said.

Despite that claim, Wilcox told CNSNews.com that the marchers support the renewal of the so-called "assault weapons" ban in September 2004. The ban actually prohibits the manufacture or importation of hundreds of types of semi-automatic firearms commonly used in sport shooting and hunting in the U.S., not true "assault weapons," which are also referred to as "fully automatic" or "machine guns." It was passed in 1994 when Democrats controlled Congress and President Bill Clinton was in office.

Chris Cox, the chief lobbyist for the NRA, challenged supporters of the ban in his address to the NRA membership.

"You know, the gun ban crowd has had ten long years to produce one single shred of evidence that banning guns has any positive effect on crime, and there's not one," he said.

"Folks, that law is a fraud and Congress will have the chance to do something about it," Cox added. "With your help, Congress will see the light, or they will feel the heat."

After the passage of the ban in 1994, many of the members of Congress who supported the legislation were defeated, returning control of the federal legislature to Republicans for the first time in four decades.

Protesters Oppose Lawsuit Preemption Legislation

Wilcox said the protesters were also present to voice their opposition to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

"There's a bill in front of the Senate right now that would give sweeping immunity to the gun industry," he said, describing the proposal as "slamming the courthouse door on victims of gun violence."

Passed by the House April 9 on a 285 to 140 vote, the bill specifically prohibits only lawsuits "against manufacturers, distributors, dealers and importers of firearms or ammunition products for the harm caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products or ammunition products by others when the product functioned as designed and intended."

The proposal would not affect lawsuits filed against the gun industry for faulty products or services. Victims (or their survivors) of violence committed by a criminal using a gun would still be permitted to sue the criminal for his or her actions, along with any person who negligently or illegally provided the gun to the criminal.

Cox warned NRA members that, while more than 50 senators support the legislation that will not be enough.

""We'll need 60 votes to survive a filibuster because [Sen.] Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) will be standing first in line to block it," he said. "We're going to need the grassroots activism of each and every one of you in this room and gun owners across this country to win this battle in the Senate."

Probable Replacement for Heston: 'You Are on the Side of the Angels'

NRA First Vice President Kayne Robinson, who is expected to be elected president at a meeting of the organization's board of directors Monday, warned those in attendance to continue to defend the Second Amendment from those he called "haters."

"It's our freedom they hate. No, freedom is for the wealthy, the gifted, the popular, the privileged," he said. "But not for average Americans in Orlando or average Iraqis in Baghdad.

"They're the same crowd who would gut the Second Amendment and disarm Americans," he continued. "They've already done it in England. They've done it in Australia. They're doing it now in Canada."

Robinson connected the NRA's support of President George W. Bush, to which former President Clinton has credited Bush's victory, to the liberation of the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein.

"The reason they are free? President George Bush. The reason he is president? The NRA.

"Everything changed a world a way because of what you did in the ballot box," he concluded. "And that is the ultimate, profound and irrefutable proof that you stand on the side of the angels."

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Speach "Winning The Cultural War" - given to Harvard Law School Forum February 16, 1999 

I remember my son when he was five, explaining to his kindergarten class what his father did for a living. "My Daddy," he said, "pretends to be people."

There have been quite a few of them. Prophets from the Old and New Testaments, a couple of Christian saints, generals of various nationalities and different centuries, several kings, three American presidents, a French cardinal and two geniuses, including Michelangelo. If you want the ceiling re-painted I'll do my best. There always seem to be a lot of different fellows up here. I'm never sure which one of them gets to talk. Right now, I guess I'm the guy.

As I pondered our visit tonight it struck me: If my Creator gave me the gift to connect you with the hearts and minds of those great men, then I want to use that same gift now to re-connect you with your own sense of liberty ... your own freedom of thought ... your own compass for what is right.

Dedicating the memorial at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln said of America, "We are now engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."

Those words are true again. I believe that we are again engaged in a great civil war, a cultural war that's about to hijack your birthright to think and say what resides in your heart. I fear you no longer trust the pulsing lifeblood of liberty inside you ... the stuff that made this country rise from wilderness into the miracle that it is.

Let me back up. About a year ago I became president of the National Rifle Association, which protects the right to keep and bear arms. I ran for office, I was elected, and now I serve ... I serve as a moving target for the media who've called me everything from "ridiculous" and "duped" to a "brain-injured, senile, crazy old man." I know ... I'm pretty old but I sure Lord ain't senile.

As I have stood in the crosshairs of those who target Second Amendment freedoms, I've realized that firearms are not the only issue.No, it's much, much bigger than that.

I've come to understand that a cultural war is raging across our land, in which, with Orwellian fervor, certain acceptable thoughts and speech are mandated.

For example, I marched for civil rights with Dr. King in 1963 -- long before Hollywood found it fashionable. But when I told an audience last year that white pride is just as valid as black pride or red pride or anyone else's pride, they called me a racist.

I've worked with brilliantly talented homosexuals all my life. But when I told an audience that gay rights should extend no further than your rights or my rights, I was called a homophobe.

I served in World War II against the Axis powers. But during a speech, when I drew an analogy between singling out innocent Jews and singling out innocent gun owners, I was called an anti-Semite.

Everyone I know knows I would never raise a closed fist against my country. But when I asked an audience to oppose this cultural persecution, I was compared to Timothy McVeigh.

From Time magazine to friends and colleagues, they're essentially saying, "Chuck, how dare you speak your mind. You are using language not authorized for public consumption!"

But I am not afraid. If Americans believed in political correctness, we'd still be King George's boys-subjects bound to the British crown.

In his book, "The End of Sanity," Martin Gross writes that "blatantly irrational behavior is rapidly being established as the norm in almost every area of human endeavor. There seem to be new customs, new rules, new anti-intellectual theories regularly foisted on us from every direction. Underneath, the nation is roiling. Americans know something without a name is undermining the nation, turning the mind mushy when it comes to separating truth from falsehood and right from wrong. And they don't like it."

Let me read a few examples. At Antioch college in Ohio, young men seeking intimacy with a coed must get verbal permission at each step of the process from kissing to petting to final copulation ... all clearly spelled out in a printed college directive.

In New Jersey, despite the death of several patients nationwide who had been infected by dentists who had concealed their AIDs --- the state commissioner announced that health providers who are HIV-positive need not .. need not ... tell their patients that they are infected.

At William and Mary, students tried to change the name of the school team "The Tribe" because it was supposedly insulting to local Indians, only to learn that authentic Virginia chiefs truly like the name.

In San Francisco, city fathers passed an ordinance protecting the rights of transvestites to cross-dress on the job, and for transsexuals to have separate toilet facilities while undergoing sex change surgery.

In New York City, kids who don't speak a word of Spanish have been placed in bilingual classes to learn their three R's in Spanish solely because their last names sound Hispanic.

At the University of Pennsylvania, in a state where thousands died at Gettysburg opposing slavery, the president of that college officially set up segregated dormitory space for black students.

Yeah, I know ... that's out of bounds now. Dr. King said "Negroes." Jimmy Baldwin and most of us on the March said "black." But it's a no-no now. For me, hyphenated identities are awkward ... particularly "Native-American." I'm a Native American, for God's sake. I also happen to be a blood-initiated brother of the Miniconjou Sioux. On my wife's side, my grandson is a thirteenth generation native American ... with a capital letter on "American."

Finally, just last month ... David Howard, head of the Washington D.C. Office of Public Advocate, used the word "niggardly" while talking to colleagues about budgetary matters. Of course, "niggardly" means stingy or scanty. But within days Howard was forced to publicly apologize and resign.

As columnist Tony Snow wrote: "David Howard got fired because some people in public employ were morons who (a) didn't know the meaning of niggardly,' (b) didn't know how to use a dictionary to discover the meaning, and (c) actually demanded that he apologize for their ignorance."

What does all of this mean? It means that telling us what to think has evolved into telling us what to say , so telling us what to do can't be far behind.

Before you claim to be a champion of free thought, tell me: Why did political correctness originate on America's campuses? And why do you continue to tolerate it? Why do you, who're supposed to debate ideas, surrender to their suppression?

Let's be honest. Who here thinks your professors can say what they really believe? It scares me to death, and should scare you too, that the superstition of political correctness rules the halls of reason.

You are the best and the brightest. You, here in the fertile cradle of American academia, here in the castle of learning on the Charles River, you are the cream. But I submit that you, and your counterparts across the land, are the most socially conformed and politically silenced generation since Concord Bridge.

And as long as you validate that ... and abide it ... you are-by your grandfathers' standards-cowards.

Here's another example. Right now at more than one major university, Second Amendment scholars and researchers are being told to shut up about their findings or they'll lose their jobs. Why? Because their research findings would undermine big-city mayor's pending lawsuits that seek to extort hundreds of millions of dollars from firearm manufacturers.

I don't care what you think about guns. But if you are not shocked at that, I am shocked at you. Who will guard the raw material of unfettered ideas, if not you? Who will defend the core value of academia, if you supposed soldiers of free thought and expression lay down your arms and plead, "Don't shoot me."

If you talk about race, it does not make you a racist. If you see distinctions between the genders, it does not make you a sexist. If you think critically about a denomination, it does not make you anti-religion. If you accept but don't celebrate homosexuality, it does not make you a homophobe.

Don't let America's universities continue to serve as incubators for this rampant epidemic of new McCarthyism.

But what can you do? How can anyone prevail against such pervasive social subjugation?

The answer's been here all along. I learned it 36 years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., standing with Dr. Martin Luther King and two hundred thousand people.

You simply ... disobey. Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course. Nonviolently, absolutely. But when told how to think or what to say or how to behave, we don't. We disobey social protocol that stifles and stigmatizes personal freedom.

I learned the awesome power of disobedience from Dr. King ... who learned it from Gandhi, and Thoreau, and Jesus, and every other great man who led those in the right against those with the might.

Disobedience is in our DNA. We feel innate kinship with that disobedient spirit that tossed tea into Boston Harbor, that sent Thoreau to jail, that refused to sit in the back of the bus, that protested a war in Viet Nam.

In that same spirit, I am asking you to disavow cultural correctness with massive disobedience of rogue authority, social directives and onerous law that weaken personal freedom.

But be careful ... it hurts. Disobedience demands that you put yourself at risk. Dr. King stood on lots of balconies.

You must be willing to be humiliated ... to endure the modern-day equivalent of the police dogs at Montgomery and the water cannons at Selma.

You must be willing to experience discomfort. I'm not complaining, but my own decades of social activism have taken their toll on me. Let me tell you a story.

A few years back I heard about a rapper named Ice-T who was selling a CD called "Cop Killer" celebrating ambushing and murdering police officers. It was being marketed by none other than Time/Warner, the biggest entertainment conglomerate in the world.

Police across the country were outraged. Rightfully so-at least one had been murdered. But Time/Warner was stonewalling because the CD was a cash cow for them, and the media were tiptoeing around it because the rapper was black. I heard Time/Warner had a stockholders meeting scheduled in Beverly Hills. I owned some shares at the time, so I decided to attend.

What I did there was against the advice of my family and colleagues. I asked for the floor. To a hushed room of a thousand average American stockholders, I simply read the full lyrics of "Cop Killer"-every vicious, vulgar, instructional word.

"I GOT MY 12 GAUGE SAWED OFF I GOT MY HEADLIGHTS TURNED OFF I'M ABOUT TO BUST SOME SHOTS OFF I'M ABOUT TO DUST SOME COPS OFF..."

It got worse, a lot worse. I won't read the rest of it to you. But trust me, the room was a sea of shocked, frozen, blanched faces. The Time/Warner executives squirmed in their chairs and stared at their shoes. They hated me for that.

Then I delivered another volley of sick lyric brimming with racist filth, where Ice-T fantasizes about sodomizing two 12-year old nieces of Al and Tipper Gore.

"SHE PUSHED HER BUTT AGAINST MY ...."

Well, I won't do to you here what I did to them. Let's just say I left the room in echoing silence. When I read the lyrics to the waiting press corps, one of them said "We can't print that." "I know," I replied, "but Time/Warner's selling it."

Two months later, Time/Warner terminated Ice-T's contract. I'll never be offered another film by Warners, or get a good review from Time magazine. But disobedience means you must be willing to act, not just talk.

When a mugger sues his elderly victim for defending herself ... jam the switchboard of the district attorney's office.

When your university is pressured to lower standards until 80% of the students graduate with honors ... choke the halls of the board of regents.

When an 8-year-old boy pecks a girl's cheek on the playground and gets hauled into court for sexual harassment ... march on that school and block its doorways.

When someone you elected is seduced by political power and betrays you ...petition them, oust them, banish them.

When Time magazine's cover portrays millennium nuts as deranged, crazy Christians holding a cross as it did last month ... boycott their magazine and the products it advertises.

So that this nation may long endure, I urge you to follow in the hallowed footsteps of the great disobediences of history that freed exiles, founded religions, defeated tyrants, and yes, in the hands of an aroused rabble in arms and a few great men, by God's grace, built this country.

If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree.

Thank you.

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America's First Freedom - Speech at the National Press Club, September 11, 1997 

Today I want to talk to you about guns:  Why we have them, why the Bill of Rights guarantees that we can have them, and why my right to have a gun is more important than your right to rail against it in the press.

I believe every good journalist needs to know why the Second Amendment must be considered more essential than the First Amendment.  This may be a bitter pill to swallow, but the right to keep and bear arms is not archaic.  It's not an outdated, dusty idea some old dead white guys dreamed up in fear of the Redcoats.  No, it is just as essential to liberty today as it was in 1776.  These words may not play well at the Press Club, but it's still the gospel down at the corner bar and grill.

And your efforts to undermine the Second Amendment, to deride it and degrade it, to readily accept diluting it and eagerly promote redefining it, threaten not only the physical well-being of millions of Americans but also the core concept of individual liberty our founding fathers struggled to perfect and protect.

So now you know what doubtless does not surprise you. I believe strongly in the right of every law-abiding citizen to keep and bear arms, for what I think are good reasons.

The original amendments we refer to as the Bill of Rights contain ten of what the constitutional framers termed unalienable rights. These rights are ranked in random order and are linked by their essential equality. The Bill of Rights came to us with blinders on. It doesn't recognize color, or class, or wealth. It protects not just the rights of actors, or editors, or reporters, but extends even to those we love to hate.

That's why the most heinous criminals have rights until they are convicted of a crime. The beauty of the Constitution can be found in the way it takes human nature into consideration. We are not a docile species capable of co-existing within a perfect society under everlasting benevolent rule.  We are what we are. Egotistical, corruptible, vengeful, sometimes even a bit power mad. The Bill of Rights recognizes this and builds the barricades that need to be in place to protect the individual.

You, of course, remain zealous in your belief that a free nation must have a free press and free speech to battle injustice, unmask corruption and provide a voice for those in need of a fair and impartial forum.

I agree wholeheartedly ... a free press is vital to a free society.  But I wonder: How many of you will agree with me that the right to keep and bear arms is not just equally vital, but the most vital to protect all the other rights we enjoy?

I say that the Second Amendment is, in order of importance, the first amendment. It is America's First Freedom, the one right that protects all the others. Among freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly, of redress of grievances, it is the first among equals. It alone offers the absolute capacity to live without fear. The right to keep and bear arms is the one right that allows "rights" to exist at all.

Either you believe that, or you don't, and you must decide.

Because there is no such thing as a free nation where police and military are allowed the force of arms but individual citizens are not. That's a "big brother knows best" theater of the absurd that has never boded well for the peasant class, the working class, or even for reporters.

Yes, our Constitution provides the doorway for your news and commentary to pass through free and unfettered.  But that doorway to freedom is framed by the muskets that stood between a vision of liberty and absolute anarchy at a place called Concord Bridge.  Our revolution began when the British sent Redcoats door to door to confiscate the people's guns. They didn't succeed: The muskets went out the back door with their owners.

Emerson said it best:

"By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world."

King George called us "rabble in arms."  But with God's grace, George Washington and many brave men gave us our country.  Soon after, God's grace and a few great men gave us our Constitution.  It's been said that the creation of the United States is the greatest political act in history. I'll sign that.

In the next two centuries, though, freedom did not flourish. The next revolution, the French, collapsed in the bloody Terror, then Napoleon's tyranny.  There's been no shortage of dictators since, in many countries.  Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Castro, Pol Pot.  All these monsters began by confiscating private arms, then literally soaking the earth with the blood of tens and tens of millions of their people.  Ah, the joys of gun control.

Now, I doubt any of you would prefer a rolled up newspaper as a weapon against a dictator or a criminal intruder.  Yet in essence that is what you have asked our loved ones to do, through an ill-contrived and totally naive campaign against the Second Amendment.  Besides, how can we entrust to you the Second Amendment, when you are so stingy with your own First Amendment?

I say this because of the way, in recent days, you have treated your own -- those journalists you consider the least among you.  How quick you've been to finger the paparazzi with blame and to eye the tabloids with disdain.  How eager you've been to draw a line where there is none, to demand some distinction within the First Amendment that sneers "they are not one of us."  How readily you let your lesser brethren take the fall, as if their rights were not as worthy, and their purpose not as pure, and their freedom not as sacred as yours.

So now, as politicians consider new laws to shackle and gag paparazzi, who among you will speak up?  Who here will stand and defend them? If you won't, I will.  Because you do not define the First Amendment.  It defines you. And it is bigger than you -- big enough to embrace all of you, plus all those you would exclude.  That's how freedom works.

It also demands you do your homework. Again and again I hear gun owners say, how can we believe anything the anti-gun media says when they can't even get the facts right?  For too long you have swallowed manufactured statistics and fabricated technical support from anti-gun organizations that wouldn't know a semiauto from a sharp stick.  And it shows. You fall for it every time.

That's why you have very little credibility among 70 million gun owners and 20 million hunters and millions of veterans who learned the hard way which end the bullet comes out.  And while you attacked the amendment that defends your homes and protects your spouses and children, you have denied those of us who defend all the Bill of Rights a fair hearing or the courtesy of an honest debate.

If the NRA attempts to challenge your assertions, we are ignored.  And if we try to buy advertising time or space to answer your charges, more often than not we are denied.  How's that for First Amendment freedom?

Clearly, too many have used freedom of the press as a weapon not only to strangle our free speech, but to erode and ultimately destroy the right to keep and bear arms as well.  In doing so you promoted your profession to that of constitutional judge and jury, more powerful even than our Supreme Court, more prejudiced than the Inquisition's tribunals.  It is a frightening misuse of constitutional privilege, and I pray that you will come to your senses and see that these abuses are curbed.

As a veteran of World War II, as a freedom marcher who stood with Dr Martin Luther King long before it was fashionable, and as a grandfather who wants the coming century to be free and full of promise for my grandchildren, I am ... troubled.

The right to keep and bear arms is threatened by political theatrics, piecemeal lawmaking, talk show psychology, extreme bad taste in the entertainment industry, an ever-widening educational chasm in our schools and a conniving media, that all add up to cultural warfare against the idea that guns ever had, or should now have, an honorable and proud place in our society.

But all of our rights must be delivered into the 21st century as pure and complete as they came to us at the beginning of this century. Traditionally the passing of that torch is from a gnarled old hand down to an eager young one. So now, at 72, I offer my gnarled old hand.

I have accepted a call from the National Rifle Association of America to help protect the Second Amendment.  I feel it is my duty to do that.  My mission and vision can be summarized in three simple parts.  First, before we enter the next century, I expect to see a pro-Second Amendment president in the White House.  Secondly, I expect to build an NRA with the political muscle and clout to keep a pro-Second Amendment Congress in place.

Third, is a promise to the next generation of free Americans. I hope to help raise a hundred million dollars for NRA programs and education before the year 2000. At least half of that sum will go to teach American kids what the right to keep and bear arms really means to their culture and country.

We have raised a generation of young people who think that the Bill of Rights comes with their cable TV.  Leave them to their channel surfing and they'll remain oblivious to history and heritage that truly matter.

Think about it -- what else must young Americans think when the White House proclaims, as it did, that "a firearm in the hands of youth is a crime or an accident waiting to happen"? No -- it is time they learned that firearm ownership is constitutional, not criminal.  In fact, few pursuits can teach a young person more about responsibility, safety, conservation, their history and their heritage, all at once.

It is time they found out that the politically correct doctrine of today has misled them.  And that when they reach legal age, if they do not break our laws, they have a right to choose to own a gun -- a handgun, a long gun, a small gun, a large gun, a black gun, a purple gun, a pretty gun, an ugly gun -- and to use that gun to defend themselves and their loved ones or to engage in any lawful purpose they desire without apology or explanation to anyone, ever.

This is their first freedom. If you say it's outdated, then you haven't read your own headlines.  If you say guns create only carnage, I would answer that you know better. Declining morals, disintegrating families, vacillating political leadership, an eroding criminal justice system and social mores that blur right and wrong are more to blame -- certainly more than any legally owned firearm.

I want to rescue the Second Amendment from an opportunistic president, and from a press that apparently can't comprehend that attacks on the Second Amendment set the stage for assaults on the First.  I want to save the Second Amendment from all these nitpicking little wars of attrition -- fights over alleged Saturday night specials, plastic guns, cop killer bullets and so many other made-for-prime-time non-issues invented by some press agent over at gun control headquarters that you guys buy time and again.

I simply cannot stand by and watch a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States come under attack from those who either can't understand it, don't like the sound of it, or find themselves too philosophically squeamish to see why it remains the first among equals: Because it is the right we turn to when all else fails.

That's why the Second Amendment is America's first freedom.  Please, go forth and tell the truth.  There can be no free speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to protest, no freedom to worship your god, no freedom to speak your mind, no freedom from fear, no freedom for your children and for theirs, for anybody, anywhere, without the Second Amendment freedom to fight for it.

If you don't believe me, just turn on the news tonight.  Civilization's veneer is wearing thinner all the time.

Thank you.

Copyright © 1997- National Rifle Association of America  

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