The Washington Post
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Related Items
Streaming RealAudio
Heston wants to shore up image of NRA
Streaming RealAudio
Heston on Bill of Rights

  • Post profile: A straight shooter on movies and politics.

  • Heston ousted a hard-line NRA vice president during a 1997 power struggle.

  • The actor succeeds Marion P. Hammer, the NRA's first woman president.

  •   New Voice Of the NRA Sounds Familiar

    Charlton Heston
    Charlton Heston speaks at the 1998 NRA annual meeting on June 6 in Philadelphia. (Reuters)

    By Dale Russakoff
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, June 9, 1998; Page A06

    PHILADELPHIA, June 8 – The National Rifle Association installed Charlton Heston as its 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, a stern-faced actor who made his name playing Moses in "The Ten Commandments," 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 gun laws opposed by the group.

    Heston rose to power in the NRA by defeating a far-right executive last year. But he made clear that his route out of the public relations wilderness involves no retreat from the 2.8-million member group's high-voltage opposition to gun control laws – only a softening of its public image.

    "It could be said that I have a public image that is useful to an organization," Heston said, the gravelly grandeur of his voice filling the hotel room in which he was interviewed. "I'm content with that and I'm content to serve in that way. It's just like I'm useful because I know how to do interviews."

    Calling the school shootings "a child issue, not a gun issue," he reasserted the NRA's longstanding 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 acknowledges that 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 said the Republican-controlled Congress has promised him it will fund all necessary prosecution and prison costs.

    But a White House spokesman, Joe Lockhart, dismissed the proposal as a "gimmick" intended to deflect attention from the NRA's opposition to gun controls. Kent Marcus, deputy chief of staff to Attorney General Janet Reno, said Congress would have to "expand by about tenfold the ranks of the FBI and U.S. attorneys or stop doing drug prosecutions or stop going after gangs" to prosecute every criminal who tries to buy a gun.

    In introducing the idea, Heston said, "I promise I will never say anything mean about the president if he'll do this." But the new voice of the NRA already had loosed one unkind salvo at Clinton, to wild applause at a Saturday session of its convention here.

    "Mr. Clinton," Heston thundered, "America didn't trust you with our health care system, America didn't trust you with gays in the military, America doesn't trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure Lord don't trust you with our guns!"

    The attack drew instant fire from the White House. "By promoting statements like that, the NRA will stay out of the political mainstream in this country," said Lockhart.

    The setting of the NRA convention in Philadelphia, which leads the nation in gun-related homicides, became fodder for both sides. Appearing on every major television network, Heston linked Philadelphia's crime rate to a local criminal justice system "in shambles."

    But Mayor Ed Rendell (D) said Philadelphia has been arresting, prosecuting and jailing more and more gun law violators, only to see a record 83 percent of homicides result from gun violence this year. "We ought to do what Mr. Heston suggests, but that will have a marginal effect," Rendell said.

    Rendell called on the NRA to drop its opposition to a proposed state law banning the purchase of more than one gun per month per person. "For the life of me, I can't understand why the NRA would oppose that type of legislation," he said.

    Heston called the bill, while "not outrageous," unnecessary and unconstitutional.

    The NRA's public image campaign includes advertisements featuring women, children and famous Americans posing with guns under the slogan, "I am the NRA." It also promotes the group's gun safety school curriculum including this message to children who find a gun: "Stop, Don't Touch, Leave the Area, Tell an Adult."

    There is no advertisement yet featuring Jacob Ryker, the 17-year-old wrestler at Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore., who was able to end the shooting rampage there by tackling teenage gunman Kip Kinkel even though he had been wounded in the chest and hand. But Ryker, his brother and parents, who belong to the NRA, were featured guests here all weekend.

    "The media expected these torn-up parents to cry, 'Gun control!' but screw that," said Rob Ryker, Jacob's father, a Navy deepsea diver. "Whoever thinks this was a gun issue alone, they don't have the big picture."

    Heston, similarly, 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."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

    Back to the top

    Navigation Bar
    Navigation Bar