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  •   NRA and Protesters Face Off in Denver

    NRA protest, Reuters
    The Colorado Coalition Against Gun Violence protests the National Rifle Association's annual meeting. (Reuters)
    By John Hendren
    AP National Writer
    Saturday, May 1, 1999; 4:34 p.m. EDT

    DENVER (AP) -- Charlton Heston took a defiant stand against gun-control laws and the news media Saturday and said his National Rifle Association wasn't the villain in the Columbine High School massacre.

    While a larger-than-expected crowd came to the gun lobby's annual meeting, thousands of opponents circled the meeting site, some carrying signs that read ``Shame on the NRA'' and ``NRA, Pusher of Child Killer Machines.''

    Officials of the nation's largest group of gun owners cut the meeting from three days to one and eliminated a gun exhibit but refused to cancel it altogether, despite requests to do so from Mayor Wellington Webb and other local officials.

    Heston told about 2,500 cheering supporters that gun owners were being unfairly blamed. Though Americans have the right to disagree with the NRA, ``We will not be silent or be told, `Do not come here, you are not welcome in your own land,''' he said.

    In the days since the rampage, America has been ``fractured into two camps'' -- gun rights advocates and gun-control law advocates, said the actor.

    ``We're often cast as the villain. That's not our role in American society and we will not be forced to play it,'' he said.

    ``We cannot, we must not let tragedy lay waste to the most rare, hard-won right in history,'' he said, referring to the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.

    The NRA meeting drew a far larger crowd than expected, with older men in fishing caps mingling with younger men in suits and ties. Loudspeakers let the overflow crowd to hear the speeches in the hotel lobby.

    Heston, who was elected last year, drew frequent applause. He accused the Clinton administration and the media of using the Columbine killings to push an anti-gun agenda.

    About 8,000 demonstrators gathered outside, including Tom Mauser, father of Columbine victim Daniel Mauser, who carried a photo of his son that said, ``Don't let my son's death be in vain.''

    ``I am here today because my son would want me to be here. If my son was alive, he would be here, too,'' Mauser said.

    Protesters formed a human chain around the Adam's Mark Hotel, some shouting ``No more guns!'' while others sang, ``We Shall Overcome.''

    During an earlier anti-gun rally at the state Capitol, police arrested at least one gun-rights advocate after he screamed and demanded a chance to speak.

    One demonstrator, Linda Questa, told of ``desperately bargaining with God'' to spare her son as she waited with other parents near Columbine on the day of the shootings.

    ``I want the NRA out this city and this state,'' she said. ``The men and women who do business in this building (the Capitol) are hoping we will forget ... (but) over the next four years we will be watching you.''

    Rabbi Stephen Foster of Denver told the crowd, ``After Columbine anything is possible.''

    ``It's much too easy to blame the NRA for last week,'' he told the protesters, who later marched to the convention site. ``It was not the NRA that took guns into that school. We have to look to ourselves, too.''

    © Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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