Speech by National Rifle Association First Vice President Charlton Heston Delivered at the Free Congress Foundation's 20th Anniversary Gala|
December 7, 1997
I like it when the party of Lincoln honors our free heritage. This nation has been blessed by the minds and mettle of many good people, and indeed Abe was among the best. A man of great moral character... a trait often lacking among our leaders. This is disturbing, but not without remedy. One good election can correct such ills.
Above all, I hope those of us gathered here tonight have more in common with Mr. Lincoln than just party affiliation. Better that we grasp a common vision than simply wear the cloak. Even our President pretends to be a conservative when it suits him. We must be more than that.
I know, I know... it is not easy. Imagine being point man for the National Rifle Association, preserving the right to keep and bear arms. Well, I ran for office, I was elected, and now I serve... as a moving target for pundits who've called me everything from "ridiculous" and "duped" to a "brain-injured, senile, crazy old man."
Well, I guess that goes with the territory. But as I've stood in the cross hairs of those who aim at Second Amendment freedom, I've realized that guns are not the only issue, and I am not the only target. It is much, much bigger than that— which is what I want to talk to you about.
I have come to realize that a cultural war is raging across our land... storming our values, assaulting our freedoms, killing our self-confidence in who we are and what we believe, where we come from.
How many of you here own a gun? A show of hands?
How many own two or more guns?
Thank you. I wonder—how many of you in this room own guns but chose not to raise your hand?
How many of you considered revealing your conviction about a constitutional right, but then thought better of it?
Then you are a victim of the cultural war. You are a casualty of the cultural warfare being waged against traditional American freedom of beliefs and ideas. Now maybe you don't care one way or the other about owning a gun. But I could've asked for a show of hands on Pentecostal Christians, or pro-lifers, or right-to-workers, or Promise Keepers, or school voucher-ers, and the result would be the same. What if the same question were asked at your PTA meeting? Would you raise your hand if Dan Rather were in the back of the room there with a film crew?
See? Good. Still, if you didn't, you have been assaulted and robbed of the courage of your convictions. Your pride in who you are, and what you believe, has been ridiculed, ransacked, plundered. It may be a war without bullet or bloodshed, but with just as much liberty lost: You and your country are less free.
And you are not inconsequential people! You in this room, whom many would say are among the most powerful people on earth, you are shamed into silence! Because you embrace a view at odds with the cultural warlords. If that is the outcome of cultural war, and you are the victims, I can only ask the gravely obvious question: What'll become of the right itself? Or other rights not deemed acceptable by the thought police? What other truth in your heart will you disavow with your hand?
I remember when European Jews feared to admit their faith. The Nazis forced them to wear six-pointed yellow stars sewn on their chests as identity badges. It worked. So—what color star will they pin on our coats? How will the self-styled elite tag us? There may not be a Gestapo officer on every street corner yet, but the influence on our culture is just as pervasive.
Now, I am not really here to talk about the Second Amendment or the NRA, but the gun issue clearly brings into focus the war that's going on.
Rank-and-file Americans wake up every morning, increasingly bewildered and confused at why their views make them lesser citizens. After enough breakfast-table TV promos hyping tattooed sex-slaves on the next Rikki Lake show, enough gun-glutted movies and tabloid talk shows, enough revisionist history books and prime-time ridicule of religion, enough of the TV anchor who cocks her pretty head, clucks her tongue and sighs about guns causing crime and finally the message gets through: Heaven help the God-fearing, law-abiding, Caucasian, middle class, Protestant, or—even worse—Evangelical Christian, Midwest, or Southern, or—even worse—rural, apparently straight, or—even worse—admittedly heterosexual, gun-owning or—even worse—NRA-card-carrying, average working stiff, or—even worse—male working stiff, because not only don't you count, you're a downright obstacle to social progress. Your tax dollars may be just as delightfully green as you hand them over, but your voice requires a lower decibel level, your opinion is less enlightened, your media access is insignificant, and frankly mister, you need to wake up, wise up and learn a little something about your new America...in fact, why don't you just sit down and shut up?
That's why you don't raise your hand. That's how cultural war works. And you are losing.
That's what happens when a generation of media, educators, entertainers and politicians, led by a willing president, decide the America they were born into isn't good enough any more. So they contrive to change it through the cultural warfare of class distinction. Ask the Romans if powerful nations have ever fallen as a result of cultural division. There are ruins around the world that were once the smug centers of small-minded, arrogant elitism. It appears that rather than evaporate in the flash of a split atom, we may succumb to a divided culture.
Although my years are long, I was not on hand to help pen the Bill of Rights. And popular assumptions aside, the same goes for the Ten Commandments. Yet as an American and as a man who believes in God's almighty power, I treasure both.
The Constitution was handed down to guide us by a bunch of those wise old dead white guys who invented this country. Now, some flinch when I say that. Why? It's true...they were white guys. So were most of the guys who died in Lincoln's name opposing slavery in the 1860s. So why should I be ashamed of white guys? Why is "Hispanic pride" or "black pride" a good thing, while "white pride" conjures up shaved heads and white hoods? Why was the Million Man March on Washington celebrated in the media as progress, while the Promise Keepers March on Washington was greeted with suspicion and ridicule? I'll tell you why: Cultural warfare.
Now, Chuck Heston can get away with saying I'm proud of those wise old dead white guys because Jesse Jackson and Louie Farrakhan know I fought in their cultural war. I was one of the first white soldiers in the civil rights movement in 1961, long before it was fashionable in Hollywood—believe me—or in Washington for that matter. In 1963 I marched on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King to uphold the Bill of Rights. I'm very proud of that. As vice-president of the NRA I am doing the same thing.
But you don't see many other Hollywood luminaries speaking out on this one, do you? It's not because there aren't any. It's because they can't afford the heat. They dare not speak up for fear of CNN or the IRS or SAG or the ATF or NBC or even W-J-C. It saps the strength of our country when the personal price is simply too high to stand up for what you believe in. Today, speaking with the courage of your conviction can be so costly, the price of principle so high, that legislators won't lead so citizens can't follow, and so there is no army to fight back. That's cultural warfare.
For instance: It's plain that our Constitution guarantees law-abiding citizens the right to own a firearm. But if I stand up and say so, why does the media assault me with such a slashing, sinister brand of derision filled with hate?
Because Bill Clinton's cultural warriors want a penitent cleansing of firearms, as if millions of lawful gun owners should genuflect in shame and seek absolution by surrendering their guns. That's what is now literally happening in England and Australia, of course. Lines—long lines—of submissive citizens, threatened with imprisonment, are bitterly, reluctantly surrendering family heirlooms, guns that won their freedom, to the blast furnace. If that fact doesn't unsettle you, then you are already anesthetized, a ready victim of the cultural war.
You know, I think, that I stand first in line in defense of free speech. But those who speak against the perverted and profane should be given as much due as those who profit by it. You also know I welcome cultural diversity. But those who choose to live on the fringe should not tear apart the seams that secure the fabric of our society.
Now I've earned a fine and rewarding living in the motion picture industry, yet increasingly I find myself embarrassed by the dearth of conscience that drives the world's most influential art form. And I'm an example of what a lonely undertaking that can be.
Nobody opposed the obscene rapper Ice-T until I stood at Time-Warner's stockholders meeting and was ridiculed by its president for wanting to take the floor to read Ice-T's lyrics. Since I held several hundred shares of stock he had no choice, though the media were barred. I read those lyrics to a stunned audience of average American people—the stockholders—who were shocked at the lyrics that advocating killing cops, sexually abusing women, and raping the nieces of our Vice-President. True, the good guys won that time though: Time-Warner fired Ice-T.
The gay and lesbian movement is another good example. Many homosexuals are hugely talented artists and executives... also dear friends. I don't despise their lifestyle, though I don't share it. As long as gay and lesbian Americans are as productive, law-abiding and private as the rest of us, I think America owes them absolute tolerance. It's the right thing to do.
But on the other hand, I find my blood pressure rising when Clinton's cultural shock troops participate in homosexual-rights fund-raisers but boycott gun-rights fund-raisers... and then claim it's time to place homosexual men in tents with Boy Scouts, and suggest that sperm donor babies born into lesbian relationships are somehow better served and more loved.
Such demands have nothing to do with equality. They're about the currency of cultural war—money and votes—and the Clinton camp will let anyone in the tent if there's a donkey on his hat, or a check in the mail or some yen in the fortune cookie.
Mainstream America is depending on you—counting on you—to draw your sword and fight for them. These people have precious little time or resources to battle misguided Cinderella attitudes, the fringe propaganda of the homosexual coalition, the feminists who preach that it's a divine duty for women to hate men, blacks who raise a militant fist with one hand while they seek preference with the other, and all the New-Age apologists for juvenile crime, who see roving gangs as a means of youthful expression, sex as a means of adolescent merchandising, violence as a form of entertainment for impressionable minds, and gun bans as a means to lord-knows-what. We've reached that point in time when our national social policy originates on Oprah. I say it's time to pull the plug.
Americans should not have to go to war every morning for their values. They already go to war for their families. They fight to hold down a job, raise responsible kids, make their payments, keep gas in the car, put food on the table and clothes on their backs, and still save a little for their final days in dignity. They prefer the America they built - where you could pray without feeling naive, love without being kinky, sing without profanity, be white without feeling guilty, own a gun without shame, and raise your hand without apology. They are the critical masses who find themselves under siege and are long for you to get some guts, stand on principle and lead them to victory in this cultural war.
Now all this sounds a little Mosaic, the punch-line of my sermon is as elementary as the Golden Rule. In a cultural war, triumph belongs to those who arm themselves with pride in who they are and then do the right thing. Not the most expedient thing, not the politically correct thing, not what'll sell, but the right thing.
And you know what? Everybody already knows what the right thing is. You, and I, President Clinton, even Ice-T, we all know. It's easy. You say wait a minute, you take a long look in the mirror, then into the eyes of your kids, your grandchildren, and you'll know what's right.
Don't run for cover when the cultural cannons roar. Remember who you are and what you believe, and then raise your hand, stand up, and speak out. Don't be shamed or startled into lockstep conformity by seemingly powerful people. The maintenance of a free nation is a long, slow, steady process. And it is in your hands.
Yes, we can have rules and still have rebels—that's democracy. But as leaders you must—we must—do as Lincoln would do, confronted with the stench of cultural war: Do what's right. As Mr. Lincoln said, "With firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in... and then we shall save our country."
Defeat the criminals and their apologists, oust the biased and bigoted, endure the undisciplined and unprincipled, but disavow the self-appointed social engineers whose relentless arrogance fuels this vicious war against so much we hold so dear. Do not yield, do not divide, do not call a truce. Be fair, but fight back.
It's the same blueprint our founding fathers left to guide us. Our enemies see it as the senile prattle of an archaic society. I still honor it as the United States Constitution, and that timeless document we call the Bill of Rights.
Freedom is our fortune and honor is our saving grace.
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