Charlton Heston and the NRA

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET

Charlton Heston used to be a liberal. He admired Martin Luther King, Jr., and attended the historic March on Washington in 1963. Like a lot of men of his vintage, he became more conservative as he grew older. As his movie roles grew more scarce, he fed his actor's ego by taking on the role of president of the National Rifle Association. At the time of his installment into that office, the NRA was teetering on the brink of dissolution, bankrupt and losing members. For about three million dollars a year, he traveled around the country promoting gun ownership and losing his soul in the process. One week after the tragedy in Columbine, the NRA showed its sensitivity to the horror by holding a convention in nearby Denver, where I believe Mr. Heston performed his classic move of holding up a rifle from the Davy Crockett era and saying he would give it up when it was pried "from my cold dead hands." At the same time parents were dealing with the eternal grief of surviving their children, Heston was playing Moses, trading tablets for a flintlock. I don't know if he knew how many illegal weapons came into our cities due to the pressure applied by the lobby he fronted. I don't know if he cared. I DO know that somewhere out there is an actor whose career is on the downside and will trade his conscience for money. To have a DNA so chock-filled with neediness that trading lives for lucre is a sad legacy, one that erases all the acting awards and honors that defined his earlier vocation, when he only pretended to enjoy killing.