Editor’s note: Actor and Second Amendment-defender Charlton Heston agreed to this interview last spring with freelance writer and radio news director Jim Bennett. It was among the last Heston did leading up to his announcement Aug. 9 that he has symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s disease. The man many believe deserves a great deal of credit for Al Gore’s defeat in the 2000 presidential campaign discussed ongoing threats to the constitutional right to bear arms.
Q: For years now you’ve been holding the line against those who’ve sought to legislate the Second Amendment into oblivion. What is the real motive of anti-gun activists?
A: What drives them? Misunderstanding. They’re inadequately equipped with a knowledge of the Bill of Rights, because the Bill of Rights is perfectly clear. I love to do interviews with some of those guys, because they really don’t know where they are on it. I’m sure you were aware, for example, of the remarkable success [The National Rifle Association] had in the last election in bringing people into the NRA, and taking those who perhaps were uncertain, and bringing them to a point where they would vote with us. Most important of all, the president, then-President Clinton, was positive that he could control the election because he felt he had the union vote locked. He said, “You know, they’ll vote with us, because the NRA is largely identified as a Republican entity.” Of course, what he didn’t realize was that indeed, a good many union workers are Democrats, but almost all of them are also gun owners, hunters, shooting sportsmen and so on. And of course we won handily. To his credit, President Clinton said afterwards, “It was the NRA that defeated us.” (Laughing) And I’m very glad of that!
Q: How devastating to our 2nd Amendment rights were the eight years of the Clinton-Gore administration?
A: Very, very devastating. (Laughing) There are broken bones all over.
Q: Can we ever recover what was lost?
A: Fortunately, Clinton and Gore were put out, and I think the election of George W. Bush was a major victory for gun owners. From the beginning he expressed his support for us. What happened in Washington after that election? Why, the whole tone changed. Instead of someone like Janet Reno, that vigorous anti-gun lady, we now, of course, have Attorney General John Ashcroft, who actually understands the Second Amendment. Instead of having to go through more disputes and arguments and back-and-forth on the waiting period – of course we have waiting periods – now we hear more discussion on how to improve the instant background check for gun purchases. And instead of decreased prosecutions of gun crimes, as it was under Clinton, we now have a very aggressive effort to increase prosecution of violent criminals. Clinton was shamefully careless about it. He was in favor of arresting criminals, but he didn’t want to actually prosecute them, which, of course, ruins the whole thing. The idea of laws is that they be obeyed. If someone violates those laws, they must pay for it. I think that’s one of the most important changes that came with this last election: An increase in prosecutions, not just arrests.
Q: With Clinton-Gore behind us, what are the most formidable sources of the current threat to the Second Amendment?
A: We still bear the burden of the eight years that gave then-President Clinton a long time to appoint many of his anti-gun friends into very significant jobs in the bureaucracy, in the government. And of course, those anti-gun bureaucrats are still there, and they can still do a lot of harm to the Second Amendment. Someone once said, “Government bureaucrats are like cockroaches: The problem isn’t so much what they do, for they really don’t do very much. (Laughing) The problem is what they fall into and mess up.
Q: Do you think America will see the counter-terrorism benefits of law-abiding citizens keeping and bearing arms in this post-September 11th era?
A: There’s no overestimating the importance of that. Fortunately, I think it’s something that is developing under the current administration. But I think there are a lot of firearm owners who haven’t joined the NRA yet. Well, they should do it! We’re all on the same side, we all know what the odds are, we all know what the problems are, we all know what the solutions can be. But it depends – crucially – on increasing the growing membership of the NRA. We do have a certain complacency, things went so well in Afghanistan we think we can just sit back and look at the news. But that’s not true, not true at all. I think the president’s plans against terrorism are coming to fruition very well. But we’ve got to remember always that history proves the value of the right of firearms ownership. Those wise old dead white guys who invented this country knew what they were talking about. But there’s a strong tendency in the national media, they say “Look, we don’t need guns. That’s old fashioned.” But of course, that’s just exactly what we do need to do. We need to keep alert, prepared, ready. It’s an interesting thing in the media, mostly in television, there are several major figures who don’t really understand the realities. They just denounce firearms. But most Americans do understand that the right to own a firearm to protect themselves and their families is something we need. The fastest-growing group of purchasers of small handguns are, guess what: Single women.
Q: What about the Rosie O’Donnells, the Million Mom Marchers, they have so much public relations power thanks to a sympathetic media. How do Second Amendment supporters defeat them?
A: We keep on doing what we have been doing. They tell us we’re safe, we know we’re not safe. They denounce firearms and make fun of the Second Amendment and the founding fathers, and that’s just ridiculous. They can’t be ignored. They can be denied and they can be faced down. And that’s what we have to do.
Q: One final question. Some say one casualty wrought by Rosie O’Donnell and the entertainment industry’s anti-gun campaign is the fact that shooting sports like hunting are now widely perceived as distinctly anti-family. I’m guessing you would say that the opposite is true, that such activities actually build families and facilitate togetherness, correct?
A: Of course they do, and that’s how it’s been for the entire history of our country. Firearms used to fill the pot for many, many families. I was raised in Michigan, and my dad taught me about the proper handling of a shotgun when I was about nine or ten years old. And when the time came when I was old enough to go out and try to bring home some food for the pot, I was very proud when I did it. Thousands and thousands of men, and some women too, were brought up with this kind of training. And we have to remember this. We have to remember it’s important.
Jim Bennett is a freelance writer and news director for KJLY Christian Radio in Blue Earth, Minn.