“When the news media are reduced to insults and vicious attacks, that suggests they have very little logic to defend their position,” says Gary Mauser, a professor of business at Simon Fraser University and a director of the B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF).
It was to a crowd of 300 at the federation’s annual convention in Prince George on April 13 that Mr. Heston delivered his controversial speech.* In it, he acknowledged that his views made him unpopular with many “gun haters,” as he called them. “Even today, the president of the United States refers to me as Moses,” he said. “But not with much reverence, I’m afraid,”
Mr. Heston, who can command a fee of up to $75,000 but spoke for free in Prince George, delivered a speech written specially for his Canadian audience. Zeroing in on Bill C-68, the federal gun-registration law, he asked how Canadians could have allowed it to pass.
“I know you fought bitterly, but it wasn’t enough,” he declared. “It will be a sad day on January 1, 2003, when every gun in Canada has to be registered with your government. Written or unwritten, gun ownership in a free nation remains an individual right. You may not be absolutely free when you own a firearm. But I guarantee you will never be free when you can’t. That’s not written, that’s God-given.”
Mr. Heston’s speech also covered territory familiar to opponents of the Liberals’ gun law, including how crime actually rises in countries that pass stiff gun-control legislation (because criminals know citizens are less able to defend themselves) and how C-68 is “a financial, unenforceable fraud.” Canadian Alliance MP Garry Breitkreuz disclosed last week that the cost of Ottawa’s national gun registry is now five times greater than the original $85-million estimate and that its bureaucracy now employs about 1,400 workers.
The speech earned Mr. Heston three standing ovations, but the response in the Canadian media was far less friendly. Many commentators, such as one unnamed editorialist in the London Free Press, adopted a straightforward “Yankee-go-home” line of attack; but some, like the Vancouver Province’s Dan Murphy, went far beyond that. In fact, he twice called Mr. Heston “the oldest, craziest whore in the world.” The paper’s editorial was only marginally less insulting, and dubbed the retired actor “some Hollywood hack.”
Such displays of raw hatred upset Ivar Larson of Canal Flats, B.C. As the new president of the BCWF, Mt Larson’s job is to communicate the federation’s concerns about gun control to the general public, but he knows he is up against widespread ignorance and bias. “I think it’s just an overreaction,” he says. “Gun-registration supporters have to realize that the people who are honest and don’t commit offences with their firearms aren’t the people who should be [burdened] with this.”
As for the convention’s famous speaker, Mr. Larson, 47, saw not a lunatic, but a friendly and passionate man. “He struck me as my granddad,” he says, a man who fought for freedom at Vimy Ridge. “Just before he died [at 95], he brought me into his room and said three things to me. One, your family and friends come first. Second, don’t let government think for you because, he said, you are the government. And third, be very cautious of a government that doesn’t trust you with your firearms.”
Mr. Heston’s stirring speech only reinforced those lessons. Says Mr. Larson, “It’s pretty hard not to respect somebody who can deliver that kind of message.”