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Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 02:09 GMT
Heston attacks British gun laws
Charlton Heston
Actor Charlton Heston surprised some by reading from an autocue
Hollywood actor Charlton Heston has attacked the UK's anti-gun laws in a speech to students at Oxford University.

The Oscar-winning actor, and president of the influential National Rifle Association (NRA) in the US, said British anti-gun laws had led to an increase in gun-related crime.

In an address to the Oxford Union, he said the right to carry arms, enshrined in the US Constitution, maintained freedom and actually saved lives.

He described the UK's anti-gun laws as nothing but "cultural cowardice and a subtle form of surrender to the criminals".

Possession of a gun does not make a man a criminal

Charlton Heston
The actor said those UK laws were the result of an unwritten constitution which gave politicians too much power.

He said: "I have spent my life in service to these two sacred sets of work. The gift of human passion in William Shakespeare and the gift of human freedom enshrined in the American bill of human rights."

The staunch Republican supporter, and a campaigner for Governor George W Bush, also described the cliff-hanger US elections as a mess.

Mr Heston said: "I think Mr Gore is filing these lawsuits and it is inappropriate."

"It certainly is making a mess of things as they stand."

He added: "Whichever man is installed in the Oval Office will have his tenure in question. He will not have an easy time."

The NRA vociferously opposed Al Gore in the build-up to the recent US election.

Charlton Heston
Heston is president of the National Rifle Association
The76-year-old actor surprised some by reading from an autocue at the Oxford Union, which has witnessed speeches from political leaders and celebrities.

In a well-researched, carefully-argued speech he spoke little of his cinematic career and instead spoke about his fight to retain the right to bear arms.

He said: "I submit that the freedom I advance saves lives and the freedoms denied in this country do not only cost lives but cheapen lives."

He told the assembled students: "Since the Labour Government banned hand guns in 1997 firearms crimes have risen."

Mr Heston said he would be "safer stepping off the plane in Los Angeles... than walking the streets of London."

The NRA has five million members and is widely regarded as one of the most powerful private interests lobby groups in the US.

"Before you look fretfully down your noses, ask yourselves why crime is on the rise because we need more gun laws or because we need to enforce the laws you have."

'Unfashionable cause'

The actor said that defending firearms freedom was not fashionable in Hollywood and denied that the NRA was a gun lobby.

"Possession of a gun does not make a man a criminal or more likely to commit a crime," he argued.

Some questions from students about the role of the NRA and the nature of gun violence in the US were ignored.

Mr Heston described the American Constitution as an "almost flawless" document and said the bill of human rights "deepened and expanded" the place of the US in the world.

Mr Heston has starred in some of the greatest movies ever to have come out of Hollywood.

He took lead roles in epics Ben Hur, El Cid and The Ten Commandments.

Charlton Heston
Heston starred in Planet of the Apes which is being re-made
One of his favourite films, he said, was Planet of the Apes, which is being re-made by Batman director Tim Burton.

The veteran said he was in discussions with the producers to take a cameo role in the film.

But he said he doubted the original could be bettered.

"It has got the best ending of any film", referring to the scene when his character confronts a broken Statue of Liberty embedded in the sand.

See also:

15 Nov 00 | Scotland
Heston's gun claims criticised
17 Oct 00 | Issues
Campaign issues: Gun law
01 Aug 00 | Entertainment
Heston visits alcohol clinic
23 May 00 | Americas
Heston steps up gun campaign
14 Mar 00 | Americas
Gun control row escalates
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