A New Commandment
Charlton Heston wants to spend $50 million to teach children that they have the right to carry guns.
The actor well-known for his portrayal of Moses is now the first vice president of the National Rifle Association. In that role, he announced this month that the NRA will spend $100 million in the next two years on a public education campaign in support of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which lays out the "right of the people to keep and bear arms."
The gun owners' lobby, with headquarters in Fairfax, Va., will dedicate at least half the money for children's education, Mr. Heston said. "It is time [children] learned that firearm ownership is constitutional, not criminal," Mr. Heston said in a Sept. 11 speech at the National Press Club in Washington. "In fact, few pursuits can teach a young person more about responsibility, safety, conservation, their history, and their heritage--all at once."
The group has not decided the exact shape of the campaign and whether it will include a curriculum for schools, a spokesman for the group said. The NRA interprets the Second Amendment to mean gun-control laws are unconstitutional.
Its opponents say the NRA is wrong and takes Second Amendment language out of context. "Their interpretation of the Second Amendment has never been held up in federal court," said Jake Tapper, the associate director of communications for Handgun Control, a Washington-based group that lobbies for stricter controls on guns. "If that's the mindset that goes into the formation of a curriculum, I hope that curriculum is not taught in any capacity anywhere."
In Washington, style often wins over substance.
The House's fiscal 1998 education appropriations bill included an amendment to encourage "whole school" reform. Conservatives complained that the new program would present a new way for the federal government to infringe on local decisionmaking. ("Proposal Would Link School Dollars, Proven Models," Sept. 10, 1997.)
To appease critics, the amendment's authors changed its name. They did not, however, substantially alter its purpose or the rules governing it. The proposed program is now known as the "comprehensive school reform" program. It was passed in the House appropriations bill last week, but still must be approved in a final House-Senate spending measure.
--DAVID J. HOFF [email protected]