The other day I picked up a phone message from a woman concerning a charity event for homeless youngsters that I was helping organize in Hollywood. The woman is a liberal, and she said she had found a friend who was willing to volunteer her home for an event we had planned for the children — then she paused — “but not if Charlton Heston comes.”
Then she paused again. “In fact,” she said, “none of my friends’ homes will be available if Charlton Heston comes.” It was unnecessary for her to say, as she also did under her breath, “They murdered those kids,” to alert me to the fact that this was about the Columbine tragedy in Colorado, where two sociopathic teenagers had barged into a high school and ambushed their classmates before turning their weapons on themselves.
Nor did she have to connect the dots and say that the passions that Heston provoked as head of the National Rifle Association, which had thwarted the passage of gun control legislation in the aftermath of these events, was the cause of her friends’ determination to shun Charlton Heston and make him a social pariah.
Accustomed as I am to such intolerant reflexes in people who otherwise think of themselves as “liberal,” this one caused me to stop and reflect for a moment on what it had revealed. Consider, dear reader, the people you know and call your friends. How many individuals could you name whom these friends would want to bar from a social gathering whose sole purpose was to raise money for homeless kids? O.J. Simpson? Slobodan Milosevic? David Duke?
For myself, I don’t have a single conservative friend or acquaintance who would say, “If Barbra Streisand wants to help us raise money for poor kids, I don’t want her in my house.” (OK, maybe one or two.)
Charlton Heston is no conservative troglodyte. He is a New Deal Democrat, the former chairman of the Hollywood committee for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington, a lifelong champion of civil rights and artists’ rights (he was a staunch defender of the National Endowment for the Arts) and generally a decent, humane and ecumenical soul.
Of course, such data is irrelevant in this matter, because the ideological hatred liberals bear toward Heston has no real-world referrent in terms of who the man actually is. Even Heston’s role as spokesman for the NRA doesn’t make their passion any more intelligible to someone outside their ideological bubble. Do the 3 million mainly lower-middle-class and working-class members of the NRA want to see children die? Would the legislation they defeated have indisputably saved those children or others to come?
The fact is that there are 20,000 gun laws already on the books, 17 of which were violated by the Columbine killers. What would one more law accomplish that the other 20,000 could not? Especially one that would merely mandate background checks on buyers at gun shows? Is there any evidence that these shows are the sites of a significant number of criminal purchases or that such legislation would have any effect on armed crimes?
The Brady Bill has been violated on 250,000 occasions, according to police records, but not a single violator has been punished. Is there any correlation at all between stringent registration laws and low gun deaths? Apparently not. A social scientist named John Lott has just published a study that claims that communities in which citizens are armed have lower incidences of gun violence than communities where guns are relatively absent.
In places where gun violence has actually been reduced, like New York, where the murder rate has been cut by a phenomenal 60 percent, the reason appears to be aggressive police methods, which have come under fire from many of these same liberals who think gun control is the answer. Do the people who hate Chuck Heston adore Rudy Giuliani? Hardly.