WASHINGTON – Move over Scarface, and make way for The Duke.
While critics condemn gratuitous violence in Hollywood films, gun rights advocates want to remind Americans that weapons have played an important role in the history of movies.
The National Rifle Association, in an effort to draw more attention to its museum in Fairfax, Va., is displaying a vast array of guns, knives — and even Obi Wan Kenobi's light saber — from Hollywood films as wide-ranging as Star Wars and The Patriot.
NRA officials say crowds of all ages have made their way to the Real Guns of Reel Heroes exhibit since its opening on March 15, proving once again that Americans like their guns and the heroes who pack them.
"It's popular culture. It's what they love, what they fantasize about," said museum program curator Philip Schreier. "It's about good guys prevailing over bad guys."
Along with many NRA supporters who lent their collections to the exhibit, pro-gun rights actors like Tom Selleck, NRA President Charlton Heston, director John Milius, Roy Rogers Jr. and a handful of studios donated generously to the project.
There is the Martin Smith Flintlock Rifle used by John Wayne in Allegheny Uprising, the gold-plated Colt Single Action Army revolvers carried faithfully by Roy Rogers through numerous films and tours and Mel Gibson's Colt Model 1911 Pistol from We Were Soldiers. Steve McQueen makes more than a few appearances with his Winchester M1876 Rifle from Tom Horn, and the 12-gauge High Standard shotgun he used in The Getaway.
John "The Duke" Wayne, the consummate American hero of the frontier and battlefield, is well represented, from the Colt Gatling Gun he used in Rooster Cogburn to the Winchester Model 1892 Carbine used in his breakout role in Stagecoach in 1939.
For younger fans, weapons from The Unforgiven, Die Hard 2, Ghostbusters, The Patriot and The Matrix are scattered throughout the exhibit.
And, who could overlook Clint Eastwood's contributions? He made a "Broomhandle" Mauser pistol famous in Joe Kidd and sported two Colt M1849 revolvers in The Outlaw Josey Wales before urging urban critters to "make my day" with his Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum in Dirty Harry and Magnum Force.
Not everyone is thrilled with the exhibit. "We do think it's the height of hypocrisy," charged Nancy Hwa, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence.
"Following the Columbine shootings, part of their strategy to stave off any efforts to tighten gun laws was to blame Hollywood and violent television shows," she said. "Now they go and put up an exhibit about it? We're not getting worked up, we just find it funny."
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam rejected the idea the NRA was promoting violence while condemning Hollywood. "I don't think it's trying to glorify everything in Hollywood today at all," he said of the exhibit.
According to the NRA, the show doesn't offer props from movies more concerned with shocking viewers with excessive blood and guts than with the ancient play of good versus evil. "We feel that there have been a lot of positive movies in which firearms have been used, and many great role models emerged from Hollywood," Arulanandam said.
Brian Diak, president and CEO of the Entertainment Industries Council, said he understands the desire to display such props. "I think the public has the right to know the history of gun use, and there is a lot of value in terms of reflecting history," he said, noting he had little objection to the exhibit.
Diak does, however, resent what he calls the over-all glorification of weapons in movies today. "[Movies] have become cheap action thrillers. They can be shiny and flashy, and they have become something unrealistic," he said. "We're just saying put some intelligence behind it."