The Second Amendment:
AMERICA'S FIRST FREEDOM
On September 17, NRA First Vice President Charlton Heston
addressed a blistering attack on media bias during a speech to the National
Press Club, Washington, D.C. Following is the full text of Mr. Heston's address.
"Today I want to talk to you about guns: Why we have them, why the Bill of
Rights guarantees that we can have them, and why my right to have a gun is
more important than your right to rail against it in the press.
I believe every good journalist needs to know why the Second Amendment must
be considered more essential than the First Amendment. This may be a bitter
pill to swallow, but the right to keep and bear arms is not archaic. It's
not an outdated, dusty idea some old dead white guys dreamed up in fear of
the Redcoats. No, it is just as essential to liberty today as it was in 1776.
These words may not play well at the Press Club, but it's still the gospel
down at the corner bar and grill.
And your efforts to undermine the Second Amendment, to deride it and degrade
it, to readily accept diluting it and eagerly promote redefining it, threaten
not only the physical well-being of millions of Americans but also the core
concept of individual liberty our founding fathers struggled to perfect and
So now you know what doubtless does not surprise you. I believe strongly
in the right of every law-abiding citizen to keep and bear arms, for what
I think are good reasons.
The original amendments we refer to as the Bill of Rights contain ten of
what the constitutional framers termed unalienable rights. These rights are
ranked in random order and are linked by their essential equality. The Bill
of Rights came to us with blinders on. It doesn't recognize color, or class,
or wealth. It protects not just the rights of actors, or editors, or reporters,
but extends even to those we love to hate.
That's why the most heinous criminals have rights until they are convicted
of a crime. The beauty of the Constitution can be found in the way it takes
human nature into consideration. We are not a docile species capable of
co-existing within a perfect society under everlasting benevolent rule.
We are what we are. Egotistical, corruptible, vengeful, sometimes even a
bit power mad. The Bill of Rights recognizes this and builds the barricades
that need to be in place to protect the individual.
You, of course, remain zealous in your belief that a free nation must have
a free press and free speech to battle injustice, unmask corruption and provide
a voice for those in need of a fair and impartial forum.
I agree wholeheartedly... a free press Is vital to a free society. But I
wonder: How many of you will agree with me that the right to keep and bear
arms is not just equally vital, but the most vital to protect all the other
rights we enjoy?
I say the Second Amendment is. in order of importance, the first amendment.
It is America's First Freedom, the one right that protects all of the others.
Among freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly, of redress
of grievances, it is the first among equals. It alone offers the absolute
capacity to live without fear. The right to keep and bear arms is the one
right that allows "rights" to exist at all.
Either you believe that, or you don't, and you must decide.
Because there is no such thing as a free nation where police and military
are allowed the force of arms but individual citizens are not. That's a "big
brother knows best" theater of the absurd that has never boded well for the
peasant class, the working class, or even for reporters.
Yes, our Constitution provides the doorway for your news and commentary to
pass through free and unfettered. But that doorway to freedom is framed by
the muskets that stood between a vision of liberty and absolute anarchy at
a place called Concord Bridge. Our revolution began when the British sent
Redcoats door to door to confiscate the peoples' guns. They didn't succeed:
The muskets went out the back door with their owners.
Emerson said it best:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood, And fired the shot heard round the
King George called us 'rabble in arms.' But with God's grace, George Washington
and many brave men gave us our country. Soon after, God's grace and a few
great men gave us our Constitution. It's been said that the creation of the
United States is the greatest political act in history. I'll sign to that.
In the next two centuries, though, freedom did not flourish. The next revolution,
the French, collapsed in the bloody terror, then Napoleon's tyranny. There's
been no shortage of dictators since, in many countries. Hitler, Mussolini,
Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Castro, Pol Pot. All these monsters began by confiscating
private arms, then literally soaking the earth with the blood of tens and
tens of millions of their people. And, the joys of gun control.
Now, I doubt any of you would prefer a rolled up newspaper as a weapon against
a dictator or a criminal intruder. Yet in essence that is what you have asked
our loved ones to do, through an ill-contrived and totally naive campaign
against the Second Amendment.
Besides, how can we entrust to you the Second Amendment, when you are so
stingy with your own First Amendment?
I say this because of the way, in recent days, you have treated your own
- those journalists you consider the least among you. How quick you've been
to finger the paparazzi with blame and to eye the tabloids with disdain.
How eager you've been to draw a line where there is none, to demand some
distinction within the First Amendment that sneers 'they are not one of us.'
How readily you let your lesser brethren take the fall, as if their rights
were not as worthy, and their purpose not as pure, and their freedom not
as sacred as yours.
So now, as politicians consider new laws to shackle and gag paparazzi, who
among you will speak up? Who here will stand and defend them? If you won't
I will. Because you do not define the First Amendment. It defines you. And
it is bigger than you - big enough to embrace all of you, plus all those
you would exclude. That's how freedom works.
It also demands you do your homework. Again and again I hear gun owners say
how can we believe anything the anti-gun media says when they can't even
get the facts right? For too long you have swallowed manufactured statistics
and fabricated technical support from anti-gun organizations that wouldn't
know a semi-auto from a sharp stick. And it shows. You fall for it every
That's why you have very little credibility among 70 million gun owners and
20 million hunters and millions of veterans who learned the hard way which
end the bullet comes out. And while you attacked the amendment that defends
your homes and protects your spouses and children, you have denied those
of us who defend all the Bill of Rights a fair hearing or the courtesy of
an honest debate.
If the NRA attempts to challenge your assertions, we are ignored. And if
we try to buy advertising time or space to answer your charges, more often
than not we are denied. How's that for First Amendment freedom?
Clearly, too many have used freedom of the press as a weapon not only to
strangle our free speech, but to erode and ultimately destroy the right to
keep and bear arms as well. In doing so you promoted your profession to that
of constitutional judge and jury, more powerful even than our Supreme Court,
more prejudiced than the Inquisition's tribunals. It is a frightening misuse
of constitutional privilege, and I pray that you will come to your senses
and see that these abuses are curbed.
As a veteran of World War II, as a freedom marcher who stood with Dr. Martin
Luther King long before it was fashionable, and a grandfather who wants the
coming century to be free and full of promise for my grandchildren, I am...
The right to keep and bear arms is threatened by political theatrics, piecemeal
lawmaking, talk show psychology, extreme bad taste in the entertainment industry,
an ever-widening educational chasm in our schools and a conniving media,
that all add up to cultural warfare against the idea that guns ever had,
or should now have, an honorable and proud place in our society.
But all of our rights must be delivered into the 21st century as pure and
complete as they came to us at the beginning of this century. Traditionally
the passing of that torch is from a gnarled old hand down to an eager young
one. So now, at 72, I offer my gnarled old hand.
I have accepted a call from the National Rifle Association of America to
help protect the Second Amendment. I feel it is my duty to do that. My mission
and vision can be summarized in three simple parts.
First, before we enter the next century, I expect to see a pro-Second Amendment
president in the White House.
Secondly, I expect to build an NRA with the political muscle and clout to
keep a pro-Second Amendment Congress in place.
Third, is a promise to the next generation of free Americans. I hope to help
raise a hundred million dollars for NRA programs and education before the
year 2000. At least half of that sum will go to teach American kids what
the right to keep and bear arms really means to their culture and country.
We have raised a generation of young people who think that the Bill of Rights
comes with their cable TV. Leave them to their channel surfing and they'll
remain oblivious to history and heritage that truly matter.
Think about it - what else must young Americans think when the White House
proclaims, as it did, that "a firearm in the hands of youth is a crime or
an accident waiting to happen?" No - it is time they learned that firearm
ownership is constitutional, not criminal. In fact, few pursuits can teach
a young person more about responsibility, safety, conservation, their history
and their heritage, all at once.
It is time they found out that the politically correct doctrine of today
has misled them. And that when they reach legal age, if they do not break
our laws, they have a right to choose to own a gun - a handgun, a long gun,
a small gun, a large gun, a black gun, a purple gun, an ugly gun - and to
use that gun to defend themselves and their loved ones or to engage in any
lawful purpose they desire without apology or explanation to anyone, ever.
This is their first freedom. If you say it's outdated, then you haven't read
your own headlines. If you say guns create only carnage, I would answer that
you know better. Declining morals, disintegrating families, vacillating political
leadership, an eroding criminal justice system and social mores that blur
right and wrong are more to blame- certainly more than any legally owned
I want to rescue the Second Amendment from an opportunistic president, and
from a press that apparently can't comprehend that attacks on the Second
Amendment set the stage for assaults on the First.
I want to save the Second Amendment from all these nit-picking little wars
of attrition - fights over alleged Saturday night specials, plastic guns,
cop killer bullets and so many other made-for-prime-time non-issues invented
by some press agent over at gun control headquarters that you guys buy time
I simply cannot stand by and watch a right guaranteed by the Constitution
of the United States come under attack from those who either can't understand
it, don't like the sound of it, or find themselves too philosophically squeamish
to see why it remains the first among equals: Because it is the right we
turn to when all else fails.
That's why the Second Amendment is America's first freedom.
Please, go forth and tell the truth. There can be no free speech, no freedom
of the press, no freedom to protest, no freedom to worship your god, no freedom
to speak your mind, no freedom from fear, no freedom for your children and
for theirs, for anybody, anywhere, without the Second Amendment freedom to
fight for it.
If you don't believe me, just turn on the news tonight. Civilization's veneer
is wearing thinner all the time.
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