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Helmke takes on comedy pundit

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To view the Colbert-Helmke interview, go to www.comedycentral.com/colbert
and search for “Helmke.”

Former mayor talks about gun control on Comedy Central's “The Colbert Report.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008 - 10:48 am

Second Amendment. Great amendment or best amendment ever?

That question never made the final cut of Paul Helmke's Tuesday night interview on “The Colbert Report,” but the former Fort Wayne mayor and president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence had plenty to answer in a nearly two-hour session that was edited into a six-and-a-half minute segment. Stephen Colbert, the lefty provocateur on the Comedy Central network whose shtick is posing as a pompous Bill O'Reilly wannabe, playfully ridiculed Helmke's beliefs in imposing more gun regulation and restrictions.

“They may hate guns, but they have no problem blasting holes in the Constitution,” Colbert said of the campaign, the lobbying arm of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, founded by James and Sarah Brady. James Brady was press secretary to President Reagan when he was shot in the head and partially paralyzed in the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan.

“How long is he going to hold that up as, like, I know more about being shot than you do?” a vexed Colbert asked Helmke about Brady. “Wouldn't it take more courage to be shot and go, ‘No, I'm not going to infringe on other people's rights just because something bad happened to me'? That would be bold.”

Colbert said Helmke's gun control views were such an infringement on the Constitution that, “you might as well be wearing a fringe jacket.”

He also asserted Helmke's decision not to be armed with a pistol during the interview made him vulnerable if Colbert attacked him with a knife.

“I'd try to kick you in the, uh, where I can hurt you,” Helmke told him.

“They're brass. It wouldn't have any effect at all. Plus, even if you shot me it wouldn't stop me 'cause I'm hopped up on scrammers.”

Much of the interview - the latest in the 35,000-part Better Know A Lobby series - didn't air. Cuts included speculation on whether President Kennedy would have been assassinated if a machine gun had been mounted on the Lincoln Continental he rode in Dallas. Also scrapped was discussion of what The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a metaphor for and a re-enactment of the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel featuring Nerf guns and Velcro vests.

“It really leaves you wondering about what this is going to look like on television,” Helmke said. “I figure, he's in control, he's the funny guy, I'm the straight man and I'll just try to go along with whatever is happening and try to make my points.”

Helmke said he had some trepidation about the interview. As mayor of Fort Wayne from 1988 to 2000, he saw what gun violence can do to a city. While supporting law-abiding citizens' right to keep guns in their homes, he supports stricter right-to-carry laws, restrictions on military-style weapons sales and multiple gun purchases.

Helmke also believes Indiana is not doing a good job alerting law enforcers about mentally ill gun owners like Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui. He worries whether the District of Columbia v. Heller case being considered by the Supreme Court could hamper communities' efforts to restrict or regulate gun ownership.

Those are life-and-death issues. And here Helmke was on Tuesday night debating a satirist who contends the Bible would have been more hopeful if Jesus had carried a gun and that people are tired of Helmke playing the, “a lot of people have been killed by guns card.”

Helmke said he considered whether he might be trivializing a serious subject by going on the show, but his concerns were outweighed by the chance to deliver his message to a younger audience that doesn't always get news from mainstream media.

“I figured as long as I give sort of my great answers that I give to any interviewer then, hopefully, it's not going to end up looking too silly,” Helmke said. “It's a combination of entertainment and seriousness at the same time, and that's a tricky road to walk, but I was happy with the result.”

Oh, and what about the Second Amendment question - great or best amendment ever? Helmke answered neither. Colbert said he would mark it down as best.