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Actress comes out - packing some heat

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"IN HOLLYWOOD . . . THERE are more gun owners in the closet than homosexuals." - Charlton Heston, new president of the National Rifle Association.

In an announcement that took Hollywood insiders by surprise, Helen LaCorcia, star of the hit ABC sitcom "Helen," admitted today that she has for many years secretly been the owner of a handgun."It's time to come clean," LaCorcia said, patting a holster strapped stylishly under her left shoulder. "If Hollywood and the rest of America can't accept me for what I am, it's their problem, not mine."

LaCorcia, appearing at a hastily called press conference, then drew her Sig Sauer 9mm semiautomatic and brandished it in front of the cameras.

"And yes, it's loaded," she said. "Deal with it."

Later, in an unscheduled appearance on "Oprah," LaCorcia elaborated on her revelation.

"Hollywood has been hypocritical on this issue for years," she said. "Everyone knows that the industry is full of weapons enthusiasts, but no one wants to admit it. They're all afraid that nobody will cast them if word gets around that they're packing heat."

Asked if her eponymous television character will also be coming out as a gun owner, the gamine comedian said: "Absolutely. In fact, we've already scripted an episode in which Helen meets someone - someone special - who takes her to a firing range and persuades her to fire off a couple practice rounds. She's converted immediately."

LaCorcia then added, "We're hoping to get Quentin Tarantino for the part."

Across the nation, gun-industry analysts were quick to hail the announcement as a milestone.

"Sure, we've had plenty of sitcoms with pistol-toting sidekicks and best friends," said Graydon Menaker, media critic for Guns & Ammo magazine. "But this is the first time we'll be seeing a fully armed major character in a top-rated comedy series. It's historic."

Some television executives were more cautious.

"The audience for shows like `Helen' tends to be a lot more pacifist than we realize," said Les Goreham, the vice president for product placement at CBS.

Lobbyists and representatives of gun-control organizations responded to the announcement with derision.

"These are supposed to be family shows," complained Adelaide Tift of Americans Against the Propagation of Firearms. "Next we'll have the Nanny toting a .22-caliber Beretta. Or Frasier with an Uzi in his briefcase. And where will it end? `Third Glock From the Sun?' "

The real test of LaCorcia's decision, however, will come from regular watchers of "Helen," and at least some of them were cheering her courage.

"I'm proud of her," said Malia, a self-described munitions performance artist from New York. "It's about time someone stood up and showed the world that owning a handgun doesn't make us any different from anyone else. I had actually lost interest in the show recently, but now I'll be glued to my set every week."

But other longtime fans were less certain in their reactions.

"I guess I'll still watch it," said Jennifer, a Chicago native who has been a devotee of the show since its premiere. "As long as the writers don't get too trigger-happy, you know? I watch `Helen' to have a few laughs, not to be lectured at about the social acceptability of possessing weapons."

Looking suddenly embarrassed, she quickly added, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."