Heston draws crowd

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 12, 1999

BATON ROUGE, La. – Gun manufacturers should not be held liable for crimes committed with their products, actor and National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston told a legislative committee Tuesday.

&uot;Those who abuse their (Second Amendment) rights should be punished for their crimes,&uot; the actor told the House Criminal Justice Committee.

Instead, firearm-related crimes could be better deterred by giving longer prison sentences to those who commit such crimes, the actor told another House committee earlier that morning.

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At the request of Gov. Mike Foster, Heston testified before both the House Criminal Justice and Civil Law committees regarding two gun-related bills.

Criminal Justice is considering a bill that would give criminals who use guns more jail time. Before Civil Law is a bill that would bar lawsuits against gun manufacturers for damages caused by firearms they produce.

New Orleans has already joined several other U.S. cities in suing gun manufacturers.

Cameras flashed and those in attendance, including many legislators, hung on every word as Heston testified and answered committee members’ questions.

&uot;We get to see Governor Foster all the time, but we don’t get to see Moses very often,&uot; joked Rep. Kyle Green (D-Marrero), referring to one of Heston’s most well-known movie roles.

Foster, NRA Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre and a handful of lawmakers who sponsored the bills also testified.

An NRA-sponsored program in Virginia called Project Exile gives those who commit crimes with guns longer sentences.

It has reduced the number of murders in Richmond, Va. – which once had one of the nation’s highest murder rates – by 62 percent for the year that ended last October, Heston said. &uot;Prison containment is a deterrent that works,&uot; Heston said.

The Criminal Justice bill would create a similar program in Louisiana.

Heston, LaPierre and Foster then addressed the Civil Law Committee.

There, Heston called the trend of suing gun manufacturers for gun-related damages &uot;not only absurd, but wrong.&uot;

The cost of defending themselves against such suits could cause gun companies to raise the price of weapons and ammunition astronomically, Heston said.

That, he added, would price pistols out of the reach of people who need them for self-defense – such as single women, the fastest-growing group of gun owners – making them more likely to become victims of crime.

&uot;The Second Amendment could be priced out of the range of the law-abiding poor,&uot;&160;Heston said.

But Green, one of the few members of either committee who spoke after the group’s testimony, didn’t buy Heston’s argument.

He cited the case of a 3-year-old Louisiana boy who fatally shot himself in the head Easter Sunday with a pistol he found in his uncle’s truck.

&uot;Can you imagine the heartache his family felt?&uot; Green asked. &uot;You can’t bring him back.

&uot;We should be protecting the (victims’ families) instead of protecting gun manufacturers,&uot;&160;he said, to the applause of some in the audience.

Still, Heston maintained that suing manufacturers for firearm-related damages is &uot;like suing the power company for someone sticking a fork in a toaster.&uot;

Instead of holding gun manufacturers liable for injuries, adults should be responsible for keeping guns out of the reach of children and teaching minors firearm safety, he said.

LaPierre then testified briefly for Senate Judiciary Committee A, echoing arguments the group had already made. That committee is considering a similar bill barring suits against companies that produce firearms.