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My Chat With Charlton

Talking Guns With The NRA's Main Man

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OVER THE YEARS I've taken more than a gentle chiding from friends over the fact that our sweet little liberal rag has as its up-front voice a card-carrying gun nut. I love Jeff Smith, but he's one of those industrial-strength bulletheads, full of phrases like "pry" and "cold, dead fingers." Creeps the hell outta me.

I tried to figure it out once. I thought maybe since he was born in the West, he felt an obligation. Or maybe it was because he lived in Tucson before the widespread use of swamp coolers. I'm waiting for some old-timer to step forward and say something like, "I remember that Smith kid. He was normal until that summer of nineteen-ought-fifty-and-six. Heat drove him plumb crazy. Been a gun nut ever since."

Oh well, he's a great writer so I guess he's entitled to be wrong about something. In the meantime, I thought I'd present the other side of the issue, and I'd do so by enlisting the aid of this year's No. 1 Gun Nut.

I called the National Rifle Association and asked if I could speak to Charlton "By-Golly" Heston himself. They told me he was out on the talk-show circuit showing off his congressman collection. He keeps them in his back pocket. The other day, he sat down too fast and broke Jon Kyl's nose.

They told me I could speak to some pat-answer-spouting nobody named LaPierre, but who wants to talk to a guy whose claim to fame is that he was once married to Cher's sister?

I wanted Heston and if I couldn't have him in person, I'd use his words. He used to be an actor, I think, and I figure the stuff he says in the movies must be real close to what he says in real life, because his acting skills aren't exactly legendary. (See The Complete Book of Really Embarrassing Oscar Winners.)

So I went back over some of his movies and struck up a conversation. (It's really not that weird talking to the movies. Woody Allen used that trick in The Purple Rose of Cairo, and it didn't weird him out. All he did was have an affair with his teenaged adopted step-daughter. It's not like they ended up getting married or anything.)

I watched Tombstone, Planet of the Apes, Earthquake and Soylent Green. I also watched The Omega Man, a really bad movie, but a legend because Charlton got down with a sis-tuh! (Rosalind Cash had a big-ass Afro in that one, too.)

Here is a portion of our conversation. (The entire transcript can be purchased from whichever lawyer Heston gets to sue me):

TD: Wow, Charlton Heston! What an honor! I'd like to shake your hand.

CH: Take your filthy paws off me, you damn dirty ape! (Planet of the Apes)

TD: Dude, I'm Italian, so I've got some hair on the back of my neck. Even so, I think that was kinda rude.

CH: You're going to figure I'm crazy. (Earthquake)

TD: Too late for that. (Pause) Hey, let's talk about your congressman collection. I heard that a couple Republican senators gnawed a hole in your pocket and tried to sneak out during the Juvenile Crime Bill debate.

CH: That's right. (Tombstone)

TD: Well, how hard is it to get inside the head of a congressman?

CH: All you have to do is tunnel through a couple layers of concrete. (Earthquake)

TD: What did the first head of the NRA say when he looked at Congress?

CH: If this is the best they've got, in six months we'll be running the place. (Planet of the Apes)

TD: What would you do if some guy went on a shooting rampage and then ran into the NRA building, with the police in hot pursuit, and asked for sanctuary? What would you tell your employees?

CH: Don't worry. If they want him, they're gonna have to come over us first. (Tombstone)

TD: I'm aghast!

CH: I'm Hooker. (Tombstone)

TD: You're a hooker. Besides, I happen to know that Hooker was played by that great thespian William Shatner. Quit tryin' to bogart. (Readers, make a note. This will be the only time in your life you will read the names Heston, Shatner and Bogart in the same article.)

CH: I've got to go work on a hydroelectric plant. (Earthquake)

TD: Acting career stalled, huh? How long has it been since you've had a speaking part?

CH: Oh...10, 12 years. (Earthquake)

TD: Let me ask you a serious question. As you know, many constitutional scholars assert that the Second Amendment confers the right to bear arms only in the collective sense, so as to allow the formation and maintenance of a militia. Furthermore, when the Constitution speaks of the rights of an individual, it always uses either "subjects," "citizens" or "persons." However, when it confers a collective right, what is the word it always uses?

CH: It's people! (Soylent Green)

TD: That's right, collective rights are conferred upon "the people." That's why you guys aren't in any big hurry for there to be a Supreme Court test of the limits of the Second Amendment, are you?

CH: I just need a little time to think this over. (Earthquake)

TD: Yeah well, just take your time. And hey, send me a copy of your magazine, the one with the Dylan Klebold centerfold. Thanks for talking to me.

CH: I'd like to kiss you goodbye. (Planet of the Apes)

TD: I think I'll pass on that. But I can give you Jeff Smith's number. He's one o' y'all.

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