On Friday, The Expendables 3 hits theaters. It’s the third installment in the star-studded, old-school, bullet-riddled action series spearheaded by Sylvester Stallone—of the Rambo franchise or, for the less-discerning filmgoer, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
The latest Expendables flick was never destined to garner much love from film critics. “You need The Expendables 3 like you need a kick in the crotch,” wrote Variety’s Justin Chang. Regardless, the movie will no doubt satisfy fans of the kind of ’80s action vehicles in which large objects explode and nameless henchmen are heroically gunned down.
But here’s a thing to keep in mind whenever a new Stallone guns-guts-and-glory fest comes out: Sylvester Stallone is the most anti-gun person working in Hollywood today (really).
This probably strikes you as weird, given that the impossibly ripped, snarling actor has built his image and fortune on being one of American cinema’s most iconic gun-toting protagonists. “[M]ovie cult figures like Rambo are seen as boosters for every American's right to bear arms,” reads a Reuters story from 1985, noting that national gun-control efforts had weakened due to a “newly aggressive U.S. mood.”
It’s not that Stallone is a raging liberal, or anything. He is widely regarded as a Hollywood conservative who has supported Republican presidential contenders from Reagan on. (Here he is attending festivities for the first George W. Bush inauguration, along with Chuck Norris and Meatloaf.) But he’s not a strict ideologue, and has donated money to the DNC and Democratic candidates including Joe Biden and Barbara Boxer. Stallone, truth be told, isn’t vocal about very many political issues—but he definitely isn’t shy about publicly voicing his opinions on gun control and gun violence in America.
After the shooting death of his friend, comedian Phil Hartman, in 1998, Stallone became particularly passionate about the issue. And it wasn’t just lax gun laws he was angry about; he wanted to blow a hole through the Second Amendment: “It has to be stopped, and someone really has to go on the line, a certain dauntless political figure, and say, ‘It’s ending, it’s over, all bets are off, it’s not 200 years ago, we don’t need [the Second Amendment] anymore, and the rest of the world doesn’t have it,’” Stallone told Access Hollywood in 1998. “Why should we?”
“Until America, door to door, takes every handgun, this is what you’re gonna have,” added Stallone. “It’s pathetic. It really is pathetic. It’s sad. We’re living in the Dark Ages [in America].”
The actor also addressed the charges of hypocrisy celebrities like him face when they favor stricter gun laws while acting in movies where a higher body count generally means a fatter paycheck. “I know we use guns in films, [but the time has come] to be a little more accountable and realize that this is an escalating problem that’s eventually going to lead to, I think, urban warfare.”
Stallone, along with the late comedian Bernie Mac, attended an event sponsored by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence back in 2006 (the buff actor had previously supported the 1994 “Brady Bill.”) And in response to the Newtown Elementary School massacre in 2012, he again called for banning assault weapons.
“I know people get [upset] and go, ‘They’re going to take away the assault weapon,’” Stallone said in early 2013, right around the time he was promoting his then-new film, Bullet to the Head. “Who…needs an assault weapon? Like really, unless you’re carrying out an assault…You can’t hunt with it…Who’s going to attack your house, a fucking army?”
For comments such as these, Stallone didn’t make any new friends in the so-called pro-gun community. Fox News even called him out over his support for post-Newtown gun-control legislation:
In early 2012, Guns & Ammo listed Stallone as one of their eight “surprising” anti-gun celebrities: “Some actors and celebrities may hope and wish for gun control, but their takes aren’t as totalitarian as Stallone’s,” the piece reads. And the following year, he was included on the National Rifle Association’s enemies list—alongside fellow ass-kickers Barry Manilow, Michael Moore, figure skater Tara Lipinski, and Henry Winkler.
In the eyes of the NRA, Rambo is as grave a threat to gun rights as The Fonz—or the director of Bowling for Columbine.