by | Jun 7, 1998 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

What if someone fired a gun at Charlton Heston?

Someone who had a bad day at work. Someone who broke up with his girlfriend. Someone who was mad at his parents. Or a 5-year-old kid who watches too much TV.

Perhaps that would change Heston’s point of view. The actor has just been chosen as president of the National Rifle Association — with a personal goal of showing the public who gun users really are. But here, in turn-of-the-century America, this is who gun users really are: the angry worker, the jilted lover, the unloved child and the schoolkid.

That’s the fact, Jack — er, Chuck.

Now as far as I know, Mr. Heston has never been the victim of a random shooting. He has never been sentenced to a wheelchair by a bullet meant for someone else. He has never lost a child because the kid next door decided to take the family arsenal to school.

Yet he says limiting guns would be terrible. He should at least have some experience in what “terrible” is all about.

Terrible isn’t missing a hunting trip, or canceling a visit to the pistol club. Terrible is finding out that your wife, a schoolteacher, is in a body bag.

Heston and the NRA say they don’t condone such shootings. Then again, Heston once wrote in Gun & Ammo magazine: “Gun owners know enough to keep children away from firearms.”

Right. These would be the gun owners whose kids just shot up the schoolyard.

Real-life horror

Now let’s be honest: Gun control is an argument you can never win. This is not the first time I’ve written about it, and I am prepared for the flood of angry letters that come pouring in from people who half the time don’t even read the entire column before they start writing. Some of the letters are intelligent, and I thank you for those. Most of them, however, go like this: “You communist liberal piece of trash! Read your Constitution! Guns don’t kill people; people kill people! And if we didn’t have guns, all the (fill in ethnic group) would just take over! You jerk!”

OK. I lied a little. It’s worse than “jerk.”

But I don’t care. At some point in life, you either take a stand, or you do nothing and thereby take a stand anyhow. Doing nothing is what the NRA folks would like. (Actually, they would like to repeal the few paltry gun control laws we’ve managed to pass.) But mostly, they want to make sure no new laws get through.

That’s why they’ve picked Heston to battle what they perceive as a wave of antigun publicity in the wake of school shootings in Arkansas and Oregon. But that should make you suspicious right there. Those dead children aren’t a publicity campaign. They’re a real-life horror. Any group that worries about public relations in light of that tragedy should be suspect.

Think about Heston. He’s an image. A handsome face. A movie actor. But these are not movie bullets, folks. And it’s not Ben Hur you have to worry about pulling a piece on your 9-year-old.

Don’t throw gasoline on fire

Now, I am not naive. I know that taking guns away does not automatically solve our problems. Until we slow down, value love, stop chasing unsatisfying goals, until we stop alienating youth and abandoning children, until we stop desensitizing ourselves to where we think killing doesn’t hurt, then our tango with violence will not end.

But you don’t throw gasoline on a fire. Why make guns readily available to an angry, tense, hair-trigger society?

Yes, I know the rhetoric. “Take away guns and only criminals will have them.” The NRA wants you to believe in a massive futuristic black market, where every evildoer automatically knows where to shop.

Come on. Right now, they can just go to the gun store. Meanwhile, people involved in the most shocking shootings today are often not criminals at all. They’re folks who just snap, and who have access to guns when they do. If the guns weren’t available, they wouldn’t know where to get them in the heat of the moment any more than you or I would know where to instantly buy a pound of heroin.

And please don’t quote me the Second Amendment. I know all about the Second Amendment. It was written in 1789. The idea of “right to bear arms” was to keep the states free from invasion — not to shoot an eighth-grader. Back in 1789, we didn’t have TV, movies or the Internet to turn us violent. It’s a different world. How come people who so smugly cite the Second Amendment have no interest in going back to using muskets?

Maybe we should ask Charlton Heston. People always remember him as Moses in
“The Ten Commandments.” I remember him in “Planet of the Apes,” at the end, when he breaks into tears upon discovering the destroyed Statue of Liberty:
“You finally did it!” he wails. “You maniacs.”

He is talking about killing one another.

Maybe he forgot that movie.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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