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Charlton Heston's NRA Keynote Speech
May 1999

"I have been advised not to be here. I apologize for this disruption, but from our friends in the national press corps, we have received some very good late-breaking news. According to reports Yugoslavia has agreed to release our three American P.O.W.'s, perhaps, this note says, within 24 hours. That's the best news we could have.

I was advised not to be here, not to speak to you here, that's not the first time. In 1963, I marched on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, long before Hollywood found civil rights, um, fashionable. My associates advised me not to go. They said it would be unpopular, and may be dangerous. Thirty-six years later, my associates advised me not to come to Denver. They said it would be unpopular, and may be dangerous. Here I am. Let me tell you why...

I see our country teetering on the edge of an abyss. At its bottom brews the simmering bile of deep, dark hatred. Hatred that's dividing our country: politically, racially, economically, geographically, in every way- whether it's political vendettas, sports brawls, corporate takeovers, or high school gangs in cleats, 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 savage. This week, Representative John Conyers slandered three million Americans when he called the NRA 'merchants of death' on national television as our first lady nodded in agreement.

A hideous cartoon by Mike Peters ran nationally, it showed childrens' dead bodies sprawled out to spell N-R-A. The countless requests we've received this 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 ten days, we've seen the these brutal blows attempting to fracture America into two such camps. Now 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 would 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.

A struggle between the reckless and the prudent, between the dim-witted and the progressive. Between inferior citizens who 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 stereotyping, except for love of country. Look in your mirror, your shopping mall, your church, your 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 they have forgotten that we are first Americans. I am asking all of us, on both sides, to take one step back from the edge, than another step and another... however many it takes to get back to the place where we are all Americans. Different...different, imperfect, diverse, but one nation, indivisible.

This cycle of tragedy-driven hatred must stop, because so much more connects us than that which divides us 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 ax 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 to often bloom on fresh graves. I remember a better day, where no one dared politicize or profiteer on trauma. We kept a respectful distance then, as 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. And we're 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 said that.

Now, if you like your freedoms of speech and of religion, freedom from search and seizure, freedom of the press, and of privacy, to assemble, and to redress grievances, then you'd better give them that 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 it's singular sacred duty, and why we preserve it so fiercely. Now, 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 Amendment.

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 altogether. 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 youths, to 500 law-enforcement agencies promoting our Eddie Eagle gun-safety program Wen told you about distributed to eleven million kids-eleven million and counting.

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 captured and crafted into your birthright 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.

And, so, when they ask you well, indeed you would uh, 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 can 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, state-run faith, refugee camps, brain-washing, ethnic cleansing, or especially submission to the wanton will of criminals.

The Second Amendment, there can be no more precious inheritance- 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, 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, yes, and we will again suffer tragedy almost beyond description. But when the sun sets on Denver tonight, and forevermore, 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."

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