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Campaign gunplay 

The best political tactic is to express total, unequivocal support for hunters and hunting and for the right of every citizen to own any weapon short of the nuclear ones and to use them to kill any living creature not human in season, or any human reasonably assumed to be perping feloniously in flagrante delicto.

You can’t fool hunters and other rabid Second Amendment devotees by pretending to be a veteran brother of the cold dead hand. They have ways of tabbing these leatherstocking phoneys, and always shoot them down, if not always literally. But it seems that every election cycle brings forth new pretenders in starched fatigues feigning high impatience for another hunting season to start so they can scurry out and blow something’s head off.

This year’s would-be nimrod is the presidential candidate from Massachusetts, Gov. Mitt Romney, who admitted last week, not altogether persuasively — well, OK , laughably — to being a “lifelong” hunting enthusiast. He alleged a sporting past in which he blunderbussed after “small varmints” such as rabbits and quail. He didn’t have to say more, though alas, he was only getting warmed up.

Neither a rabbit nor a quail is a “varmint.” Especially the elegant quail. Gov. Romney could’ve got by calling them critters, but not varmints. There are varmints, and people who shoot them, but they are a different and lower-regarded order of critter than true game animals. Varmint hunters shoot crows, coyotes, wharf rats, lawyers, and the like — a pursuit little admired and wholly unappreciated on account of there never being the slightest pretense of it being done for the “meat.” It’s not dishonorable work, but it has a shabby aspect akin to Tom DeLay running around squirting silverfish with Niban.

It’s pardonable to shoot polecats as varmints, and redhanded yeggs, but the point is that gunplay directed against varmints is altogether peripheral to the contemporary political debate. Varmints and varmint hunters carry the same amount of political weight, which is to say, none.

And calling them “small varmints” depreciates them and the slaughter of them even more. To my thinking, “shooting small varmints” brings to mind shooting ants. Or tadpoles. Or skinks out sunning and doing pushups on the back fence. You just can’t make something of constitutional moment out of that.

Poor Gov. Romney would have been better advised to look for guidance in this matter to our Arkansas presidential candidate, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, whom some of you might still remember. Bro.-Gov. Huckabee was also a soft, sedentary little man, and it was at the considerable risk of some merciless hoorawing that he ever submitted to the political necessity of assuming the position behind a shotgun. But once lured and deposited out in the deer woods, he didn’t pussy around with any “small varmints.”

Aides in penny loafers might have been obliged to serve as beaters, but they ran or dragged genuine deer through and along his shooting lane until he lawfully managed to bag one of the sons-a-bitches, and the story was told that he did the terrible coup de grace thing, and completed the ritual of eating the raw gizzard or whatever, certifying him as the real McCoy in the deer-hunting business. The whole thing might have been a charade — he or another might’ve taken that buck by running it over with the donated ATV — but at least he made the effort to spin a credible woodland tale.

And he didn’t stop there. He further humored and courted Eat Lead Nation by advocating that everyone gat up, presumably including Wayne Dumond, or Wayne Dumond’s formaldehidden nuts, and by broadly hinting, patting the telltale bulge, that he himself had gone to packing, perhaps even during TV network interviews and in church. He promised to use the piece to hold up 7-11s to supplement the campaign cash flow, if it came to that. Which apparently it’s about to.

The common assumption was that he got it to give muggers and reluctant donors pause, or merely to impress the NRA, but the man, besides being not funny and not clever and greedy beyond belief and probably clinically insane, has something of romance in him of the combined Walter Mitty and Dirty Harry variety, and that makes you think he might’ve got it for those long flights when he might fantasize if nothing else about sliding open the boarding door of the Lord’s Ranch airplane at 5,000 feet and popping away at astonished passing V-formations of gadwalls or snow geese while Rex Nelson or Jim Harris, braced against a strut, held desperate onto his emaciated calves.

Surely Mitt Romney has never done anything like that, or entertained the notion. It might behoove him politically to move in that direction, if it’s not already too late. Anyway, all he’d be able to accomplish, even in the imaginary version, would be to get sucked out of the plane, whereupon his version of Rex and Jim would be obliged to leap after him in the hope of getting his chute untangled before the big tripartite splat, which would be all over YouTube either way.

Even if he managed to stay aboard, no duck would ever be endangered, and there’d be vast planewide relief if he ever once got the gun pointed semi in the right direction.

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