A camera crew set up shop one evening a few weeks ago near a bridge just two blocks from the U.S. Capitol, and they waited for actor Charlton Heston to arrive.
Heston's latest starring role is in commercials for the National Rifle Association, in which he shows the seamier side of Washington, D.C., and makes his point - that the nation's capital is also the murder capital. And if they have guns, why shouldn't you?Except there isn't much within eyeshot of the Capitol that is seamy enough to make the NRA's point. So while the crew waited for Heston to arrive, they added some cosmetic touches. They chalked graffiti on the bridge support and added an eerie mist - the kind of thing that middle America expects to find in a ghetto.
Heston arrived and taped an ad similar to one that he did three years ago. He walked in front of the bridge support, which, thanks to Madison Avenue, looked like a moldy, vandalized wall of a tenement building. Washington is still the murder capital of the nation, and law-abiding people are taking the heat for it, Heston said. Criminals, not guns, are the problem. Citizens are being disarmed while criminals rule the streets.
Then Heston walked past the end of the bridge support and the Capitol loomed in the background. The ad makes the neighborhood around the Capitol look like murder central, but it was taped in a relatively safe neighborhood. When our associate Scott Sleek asked the NRA about the creative license, a spokesman said it was done to "enhance what was already there."
Why the media blitz now? Because the NRA is doing battle with a formidable opponent, James Brady. He was Ronald Reagan's press secretary on March 30, 1981, when Reagan and his entourage emerged from a Washington hotel and met a barrage of bullets from the gun of John Hinckley.
One bullet pierced Brady's skull and, in that act, Hinckley crippled him and created a lifelong advocate for gun control. Ten years later, Brady and his wife, Sarah, are doggedly pressing Congress for a gun-control law called the "Brady Bill."
It would require a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases so police could check the buyer's background. The Bradys are joined by Handgun Control Inc., a public interest lobby, in their campaign to get the bill through Congress.
Congress has been gun-shy about passing the bill because of intense lobbying by the NRA. House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., has said he will allow the Brady Bill its day on the House floor. Gun-control crusaders hope that day comes by March 30, the 10th anniversary of the shooting.
Even though the bill will see the light of day outside of a House committee, it faces an uphill fight. The NRA's political action committee has spread millions of dollars in campaign contributions across Congress.
The gun-control lobby doesn't have the resources that the NRA has, and can't match a media blitz. But the movement has mounted an ad campaign. One magazine ad features a picture of Brady in his wheelchair and the headline, "This handgun statistic just broke his silence."