A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 19, 2010
“(I’ll give you my gun when you take it) From my cold, dead hands”

"I will give up my gun when they pry my cold, dead fingers from around it” is a bumper sticker slogan supporting gun rights and dating from at least March 1972. “I’ll give up my gun when they pry my cold dead hands off of it” was cited in December 1972, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that “cold, dead fingers” was mostly replaced with “cold, dead hands.”

Charlton Heston (1923-2008) was president of the National Rifle Association from 1998 to 2003; Heston addressed many meetings carrying a rifle and declaring, “From my cold, dead hands!”

The phrase “From my cold, dead hands!” has expanded past its gun rights origins and symbolizes (often humorously) anyone who will fight to the death on an issue.


Wikipedia: Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston (October 4, 1923 – April 5, 2008) was an American actor of film, theatre and television.

Heston is known for having played heroic roles, such as Moses in The Ten Commandments, Colonel George Taylor in Planet of the Apes, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar in El Cid, and Judah Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. In the 1950s and 1960s he was one of a handful of Hollywood actors to speak openly against racism and was an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. Initially a moderate Democrat, he later supported conservative Republican policies and was president of the National Rifle Association from 1998 to 2003.
(...)
In a speech to the National Press Club in 1997, Heston said, “Now, I doubt any of you would prefer a rolled up newspaper as a weapon against a dictator or a criminal intruder.”

Heston was the president and spokesman of the NRA from 1998 until he resigned in 2003. At the 2000 NRA convention, he raised a rifle over his head and declared that a potential Al Gore administration would take away his Second Amendment rights “from my cold, dead hands.” In announcing his resignation in 2003, he again raised a rifle over his head, repeating the five famous words of his 2000 speech. He was an honorary life member.

Wikipedia: I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands
“I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands!” is a slogan popularized by the National Rifle Association (NRA) on a series of bumper stickers. It is a variation of a slogan mentioned in a 1976 report from the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency: “I Will Give Up My Gun When They Peel My Cold Dead Fingers From Around It.” The original version did not originate with the NRA, but with another gun rights group, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, based in Bellevue, Washington. It, along with “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”, is a slogan that is often used by gun owners and their supporters in discussions of gun control in the United States.

Charlton Heston’s usage
The phrase gained newfound popularity on May 20, 2000, when veteran actor and NRA president Charlton Heston capped a speech at the 129th NRA convention in Charlotte, North Carolina by concluding:

“For the next six months, [presidential candidate and Vice President of the United States] Al Gore is going to smear you as the enemy. He will slander you as gun-toting, knuckle-dragging, bloodthirsty maniacs who stand in the way of a safer America. Will you remain silent? I will not remain silent. If we are going to stop this, then it is vital to every law-abiding gun owner in America to register to vote and show up at the polls on election day. ”

Near the end of his remarks, Heston paused to pick up a replica of a Revolutionary War musket, and continued:

“So, as we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: ‘From my cold, dead hands!’”
— Charlton Heston, May 20, 2000

He repeated the phrase at the end of each NRA convention over which he presided as president of the NRA. When he announced his retirement, he concluded by repeating “From my cold, dead hands.”

29 March 1972, North Hills (PA) News Record, ‘Says law, order will do the trick,” pg. 6, col. 5:
To the Editor:
(...)
I saw a bumper sticker that read, ‘Register Communists—Not Guns,” and another that read, “I will give up my gun when they pry my cold, dead fingers from around it.”
(Earl C. McCracken, West View—ed.)

2 October 1972, Hagerstown (MD) Daily Mail, “Youth Letter Forum: Against Gun Law,” pg. 4, col. 7:
As for me, I will gladly give up my guns when they pry my cold dead fingers from around them.
TIM CHAPLA, 17,
North Hagerstown High

12 December 1972, Benington (VT) Banner, “prose on a bumper” by John Randoplh, pg. 13, col. 1:
OCCASIONALLY country editors are the beneficiaries of prose so original and forceful as to demand immediate introduction to the public domain. Such is the case of the following bumper sticker proposed by an area businessman intent on merchandising his product through a regional monthly tabloid: “I will give up my gun when they pry my cold, dead fingers from around it!”

17 December 1972, Gastonia (NC) Gazette, pg. 3C, col. 3:
Indeed, I am sure that they would be the first to criticize the bumper sticker: “I’ll give up my gun when they pry my cold dead hands off of it.”

The Harvard Crimson
Gun Control: Debate Begins Again
By David A. Copithorne,
Published: Friday, December 20, 1974
The auditorium at the State House was jammed with nearly a thousand people, most of them sporting lapel buttons that said, “Stick to your Guns!” There were hundreds of burly men, young and old, wearing red hunting jackets decorated with patches that identified gun clubs and sportsmen’s associations from all over the state.

When a young man with a crew cut got up and spread out a banner that declared, “I will give up my gun when they pry my cold dead fingers from around it,” the crowd stood up and roared its approval with cheers, applause and foot-stamping. The ovation set the tone for the rest of the day’s hearings on gun control bills before the state legislature’s Committee on Public Safety.

Google News Archive
20 March 1975, Ellensburg (WA) Daily Record, “The gun control issue is always hot” by Adele Ferguson, pg. 8, col. 4:
Example, in a letter received by Rep. Jeff Douthwaite, sponsor of a pistol registration act:

“If you get my guns, you will have to uncurl my cold dead fingers from my guns.”

Time magazine
CRIME: Muzzling Handguns
Monday, Apr. 28, 1975
(...)
With pressure building up for some kind of change, the N.R.A. is quietly indicating that it might ease its opposition to curbs on ownership of some handguns. Fearing that the N.R.A. is turning soft, freedom-of-the-gun hardliners have formed the National Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. The committee argues that law-abiding Americans need guns to protect themselves against armed criminals. A startling bumper sticker displayed by some like-minded citizens: “I will give up my gun when they peel my cold dead fingers from around it.”

Google News Archive
24 June 1975, Modesto (CA) Bee, “Letters to the Editor,” pg. A12, col. 3:
Well sir, you may have my gun when you pry my cold, dead fingers from around the hot, smoking barrel of my musket.
DAVID W. CLARK
Dealer in Firearms
Oakdale

Google News Archive
14 September 1975, Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal, “The Stroller” by Seymour Rosenberg, pg. 1, col. 1:
Gun control advocates have a tough job in South Carolina if a bumper sticker on a Spartanburg car is any indication. It reads: “I will give up my gun when they pry my cold, dead hands from around it.”

Google Books
McCarthy’s List
By Mary Mackey
London: Picador
1981, ©1979
Pg. 108:
I’LL GIVE UP MY GUN WHEN THEY PRY IT OUT OF MY COLD DEAD HANDS, my father’s bumper sticker read.

Google News Archive
21 June 1988, Victoria (TX) Advocate, “The Making of a Gun Nut: Mr. Rowan Qualifies” by Cal Thomas, pg. 4A, col. 3:
Though he advocates gun control, Rowan looked like a believer in the philosophy expressed on gun-nut bumper stickers: “They’ll get my gun when they pry my cold dead fingers off the trigger.”

Google Books
November 1988, Texas Monthly, pg. 131, col. 1:
On the rear bumper of his pickup is a sticker that reads, “You Can Have My Water, Just Like You Can Have My Gun—When You Pry It Out of My Cold Dead Hands.”

The Chronicles Of A Rogue Jew
Best Quote Ever: “From my cold dead hands”
April 7, 2008
by The Rogue Jew
These words and the image of Charlton Heston holding up that gun will live forever in my heart and soul.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Friday, March 19, 2010 • Permalink