Editor’s note: The following are remarks by Charlton Heston to
4,000 National Rifle Association members in Denver Colorado, May 1.
Thank you. Thank you very much. Good morning. I am very happy to
welcome you to this abbreviated annual gathering of the National Rifle
Association. Thank you all for coming and thank you for supporting your
organization. I also want to applaud your courage in coming here
today. Of course, you have a right to be here. As you know, we’ve
canceled the festivities and the fellowship we normally enjoy at our
annual gatherings. This decision has perplexed a few and inconvenienced
thousands. As your president, I apologize for that. But it is fitting
and proper that we should do this. Because NRA members are, above all,
Americans. That means that whatever our differences, we are respectful
of one another, and we stand united, especially in adversity.
I have a message from the mayor, Mr. Wellington Webb, the mayor of
Denver. He sent me this. It says, “Don’t come here. We don’t want you
I say to the mayor, well, my reply to the mayor is, “I volunteered
for the war they wanted me to attend when I was eighteen years old.
Since then, I have run small errands for my country, from Nigeria to
Vietnam.” I know many of you here in this room could say the same
thing. But the mayor said, “Don’t come.”
I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry for the newspaper ads saying the same
thing, “don’t come here.” This is our country. As Americans, we are
free to travel wherever we want, in our broad land.
They say we’ll create a media distraction. But we were preceded here
by hundreds of intrusive news crews. They say we’ll create political
distraction. But it’s not been the NRA pressing for political
advantage, calling press conferences to promote vast new packages of
legislation. Still they say, “don’t come here.”
I guess what saddens me the most is how that suggests complicity. It
implies that you and I and 80 million honest gun owners are somehow to
blame. That we don’t care as much as they do. Or that we don’t deserve
to be as shocked and horrified as every other soul in America mourning
for the people of Littleton.
Don’t come here. That’s offensive. It’s also absurd. Because we
live here. There are thousands of NRA members in Denver and tens upon
tens of thousands in the state of Colorado. NRA members labor in
Denver’s factories, they populate Denver’s faculties, run Denver
corporations, play on Colorado’s sports teams, work in media and across
the front range, parent and teach and coach Denver’s children, attend
Denver’s churches and proudly represent Denver in uniform on the world’s
oceans and in the skies over Kosovo at this very moment. NRA members
are in City Hall, Fort Carson, NORAD, the Air Force Academy, and the
Olympic training center. And yes, NRA members are surely among the
police and fire and SWAT team heroes who risked their lives to rescue
the students at Columbine.
Don’t come here? We’re already here! This community is our home.
Every community in America is our home. We are a 128-year-old fixture
of mainstream America. The Second Amendment ethic of lawful,
responsible firearm ownership spans the broadest cross section of
American life imaginable. So, we have the same rights as all other
citizens to be here. To help shoulder the grief, to share our sorrow
and to offer our respectful, reassured voice to the national discourse
that has erupted around this tragedy.
One more thing: Our words and our behavior will be scrutinized more
than ever this morning. Those who are hostile towards us will lie in
wait to seize on a sound bite out of context, ever searching for an
embarrassing moment to ridicule us. So, let us be mindful. The eyes of
the nation are on us today.
(He introduces the Colorado Secretary of State, Vicki Buckley. Then
the Vice-President of the NRA speaks before Mr. Heston appears again.)
I see our country teetering on the edge of an abyss. At its bottom
brews the simmering bile of deep, dark hatred. Hatred that is dividing
our country. Politically. Racially. Geographically. In every way,
whether it’s political vendettas, sports brawls, corporate takeovers,
high school gangs and cliques.
The American competitive ethic has changed from “let’s beat the other
guy” to “let’s destroy the other guy.”
Too many, too many are too willing to stigmatize and demonize others
for political advantage, for money or for ratings. The vilification is
This week, Representative John Conyers slandered 3 million Americans
when he called the NRA “merchants of death” on national television, as
our first lady nodded in agreement. A hideous editorial cartoon by Mike
Peters ran nationally. It showed children’s dead bodies sprawled out to
The countless requests we’ve received in the last week or so for
media appearances are in fact summons to public floggings, where those
who hate firearms will predictably don the white hat and give us the
black one. This harvest of hatred is then sold as news, as
entertainment, as government policy. Such hateful, divisive forces are
leading us to one awful end: America’s own form of Balkanization. A
weakened country of rabid factions each less free, united only by hatred
of one another.
In the past 10 days we’ve seen these brutal blows attempting to
fracture America into two such camps. One camp would be the majority,
people who believe our Founders guaranteed our security with the right
to defend ourselves, our families, and our country.
The other camp would be a large minority of people who believe that
we will buy security if we will just surrender these freedoms. This
debate would be accurately described as those who believe in the Second
Amendment versus those who don’t.
But instead it is spun as those who believe in murder versus those
who don’t. The struggle between the reckless and the prudent. Between
the dim-witteds and the progressives. Between inferior citizens who
don’t know and elitists who know what’s good for society.
But we’re not the rustic reckless radicals they wish for.
No, the NRA spans the broadest range of American demography
imaginable. We defy stereotype, except for love of country. Look in
your mirror, your shopping mall, your church or grocery store. That’s
us. Millions of ordinary people and extraordinary people. War heroes,
sports idols, several U.S. presidents, and yes, movie stars.
But the screeching hyperbole leveled at gun owners has made these two
camps so wary of each other, so hostile, and confrontational and
disrespectful. On both sides.
It is forgotten that we are first, Americans. I am asking all of us
on both sides to take one step back from the edge. Then another step.
And another. However many it takes to get back to that place where we
are all Americans. Different, imperfect, diverse, but one nation,
This cycle of tragedy-driven hatred must stop. Because so much more
connects us than that which divides us. And because tragedy has been
and will always be with us. Somewhere right now evil people are
planning evil things. All of us will do everything meaningful,
everything we can do to prevent it. But each horrible act can’t become
an axe for opportunists to cleave the very bill of rights that binds us.
America must stop this predictable pattern of reaction, when an
isolated terrible event occurs, our phones ring demanding that the NRA
explain the inexplicable. Why us? Because their story needs a
villain. They want us to play the heavy in their drama of packaged
grief. To provide riveting programming to run between commercials for
cars and cat food.
The dirty secret of this day and age is that political gain and media
ratings all too often bloom on fresh graves.
I remember a better day when no one dared politicize or profiteer on
drama. We kept a respectful distance then, as the NRA has tried to do
now. Simply being silent is so often the right thing to do. But today
carnage comes with a catchy title, splashy graphics, regular promos, and
a reactionary passage of legislation. Reporters perch like vultures on
the balconies of hotels for a hundred miles around. Cameras jockey for
shocking angles, as news anchors race to drench their microphones with
the tears of victims.
Injury, shock, grief and despair shouldn’t be brought to you by
sponsors. That’s pornography. It trivializes the tragedy it abuses.
It abuses vulnerable people, and maybe worst of all, it makes the
unspeakable seem commonplace.
We are often cast as the villain. That is not our role in American
society, and we will not be forced to play it.
Our mission is to remain, as our vice-president said, a steady beacon
of strength and support for the Second Amendment, even if it has no
other friend on this planet. We cannot — we must not — let tragedy
lay waste to the most rare and hard-won human right in history. A
nation cannot gain safety by giving up freedom. This truth is older
than our country.
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little
temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Ben Franklin
Now, if you like your freedoms of speech, and of religion, freedom
from search and seizure, freedom of the press, and of privacy and to
assemble, and to redress grievances, then you better give them the
eternal bodyguard called the Second Amendment.
The individual right to bear arms is freedom’s insurance policy. Not
just for your children, but for infinite generations to come. That is
its singular sacred beauty, and why we preserve it so fiercely. No,
it’s not a right without rational restrictions. And it’s not for
everyone. Only the law-abiding majority of society deserves the Second
Abuse it once, and lose it forever. That’s the law.
But, curiously, the NRA is far more eager to prosecute gun abusers
than are those who oppose gun ownership all together. As if the tool
could be more evil than the evil doers. I don’t understand that.
The NRA also spends more and works harder than anybody in America to
promote safe, responsible use of firearms. From 38,000 certified
instructors, training millions of police, hunters, women and youth, to
500 law enforcement agencies promoting our Eddie Eagle gun safety
program Wayne told you about, distributed to 11 million kids, 11 million
But our essential reason for being is this: as long as there is a
Second Amendment, evil can never conquer us. Tyranny in any form can
never find footing within a society of law abiding, armed, ethical
people. The majesty of the Second Amendment that our Founders so
divinely created and crafted to your birth right guarantees that no
government despot, no renegade faction of armed forces, no roving gangs
of criminals, no breakdown of law and order, no massive anarchy, no
force of evil or crime, or oppression from within or from without, can
ever rob you of the liberties that define your Americanism.
So, when they ask you, “Well, indeed, you would bear arms against
government tyranny?” The answer is: “No. That could never happen
precisely because we have the Second Amendment.”
Let me be absolutely clear. The Founding Fathers guaranteed this
freedom because they knew no tyranny could ever arise among a people
endowed with the right to keep and bear arms. That’s why you and your
descendants need never fear fascism, refugee camps, brainwashing, ethnic
cleansing, or especially submission to the wanton will of criminals. The
Second Amendment: there could be no more precious inheritance.
Now, that’s what the NRA preserves. Now, if you disagree, that’s
your right. I respect that. But we will not relinquish it or be
silenced about it, or be told, “Do not come here. You are unwelcome in
your own land.”
Let us go from this place, from this huge room, renewed in spirit and
dedicated against hatred. We have work to do, hearts to heal, evil to
defeat, and a country to unite. We may have differences, and we will
again suffer tragedy almost beyond description. But when the sun sets
on Denver tonight, and forever more, let it always set on We, the
People. Secure in our land of the free and home of the brave. I for
one plan to do my part, thank you.