On May 19, 2001, actor Charlton Heston (1924-2008), was elected to an unprecedented fourth term as the president of the National Rifle Association.
He gave a rousing acceptance speech that day to NRA members attending the group’s annual convention in Kansas City.
He praised them as defenders of freedom, saying, “You are of the same lineage as the farmers who stood at Concord Bridge” at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
Then, holding a Revolutionary War-style Brooks flintlock rifle over his head, Heston uttered what quickly became his most famous quotation that wasn’t a movie line.
It also became Heston’s most infamous quote.
Referring to Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore and other people who supposedly wanted to take away Americans’ right to own guns, he said:
“I have only five words for you: From my cold, dead hands.”
He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists in the 1960s to support equal rights for African Americans.
He also defended First Amendment free speech rights.
But, fairly or not, Heston’s most remembered political stand is the one he took on gun rights later in life.
His high profile leadership of the NRA made him a hero to gun rights advocates and a pariah to people who want fewer guns and more gun control.
And, of course, like any notable quote, his “cold, dead hands” phrase has been recycled and repurposed in many ways since 2001.
The snarkiest example is the headline run by The Onion after Heston died on April 5, 2008.
It said: “Charlton Heston’s Gun Taken From His Cold, Dead Hands.”
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