June 2003

Downrange: 06/03

HESTON STEPS DOWN. At the NRA’s annual convention in Orlando April 26-27, Charlton Heston stepped down as the group’s president. Unquestionably, Heston’s celebrity helped amplify the NRA’s gun-rights message and put supporters in Congress and the White House.

As the NRA’s public face for five years, he successfully steered the organization through several public-relations disasters involving shootings, and he won wide favor with fellow celebrities and politicians. For example, as part of his going-away event, country music singer Toby Keith performed in Orlando, and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave the convention’s keynote speech.

“It helped the NRA immeasurably to have Charlton Heston as president,” said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA. “[His presence] brought a built-in microphone.”

Heston’s elevation in 1998 to the NRA’s presidency gave the gun-rights group a celebrity platform to push its political agenda at a time when the NRA faced a hostile administration under President Clinton. Heston campaigned vigorously for Bush in 2000 and for Republicans in 22 states last year.

Heston, 78, who starred in Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, and Planet of the Apes during a 50-year film career, learned last year that he was afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

The actor will be succeeded by Kayne Robinson, a former police detective from Des Moines and the former chairman of the Iowa State Republican Party.

The Bush administration has supported the NRA on many issues. In fact, Robinson created a controversy when he boasted before the 2000 election that if Bush won the White House, “… we’ll have a president where we work out of their office.”

One of Heston’s last statements as NRA president came on April 10, when he wrote to troops in what then was still a battle zone in Iraq. The message he wrote, co-signed by his wife Lydia, said, “There is no duty more noble than that which has called you across the world in defense of freedom. Yours is a mission of hope and humanity for the oppressed. Rest assured that while pretend-patriots talk of supporting you, even as they condemn your noble cause, an unwavering vast majority of Americans share and take pride in your mission. You represent all that is good and right about America and are the true face of American patriotism. You walk in those same righteous footsteps of all those patriots who, before you, fought to preserve liberty for all. Our prayers and our personal gratitude are with you and your families. May God Bless You.”

Likewise you, Mr. Heston.

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SHOOTING SPORTS RANK HIGH AS PASTIMES. More Americans hunt with firearms, enjoy muzzleloading, or participate in various other target-shooting activities than play soccer, softball or tennis combined. According to the National Sporting Goods Association’s annual research study, Sports Participation in 2002, some 42 million individuals aged seven years and older enjoyed some form of the shooting sports more than once during the past year. Hunting with firearms, with 19.5 million participants, ranked 16th in popularity out of 43 sports activities surveyed. Target shooting, with 18.9 million participants, ranked 17th. Both sports grew in popularity since the previous year’s study. Hunting participation rose 1.6 percent from 19.2 million in 2001. Target shooting increased 9.6 percent from 15.9 million. Muzzleloading sports ranked in the top ten in terms of growth, increasing 11 percent with 3.6 million participants in 2002, compared with 3 million the year before.


-Todd Woodard