Rudolph Giuliani has a problem with guns. Seems that when he was cleaning up New York, Sheriff Giuliani took a hard line on hoglegs. His constituents didn’t have a problem with this, or just about anything else Giuliani did to fight crime, since New York, in those days, resembled Deadwood on a slow night. As part of his campaign to make the streets safe, Giuliani’s administration sued 30 American arms manufacturers, and his police commissioner proposed a nationwide system of registration under which citizens would be required to demonstrate good moral character and a reason for owning a gun. (Interesting to imagine how the same government that can lose track of 600,000 people under deportation orders would handle that one.) Now that Giuliani is among the frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination, the question is: Will his antigun record be a deal-breaker, especially with the kind of people who tend to vote in primaries.
There are, evidently, a lot of otherwise pro-gun people who hope not. They believe Giuliani could win, that he’d make a good president, and that it would be a shame if he were denied the nomination for the sin of coming down on the wrong side of the NRA. One novel idea for how Giuliani might overcome the antigun stigma came from the John Derbyshire, who is pro-gun and pro-Giuliani. Derbyshire, one of the more engaging, idiosyncratic writers around, suggested on “The Corner” that it might be a good idea for Giuliani to go on a hunting trip and come back making the right noises about the experience.
Recent presidents and presidential candidates have allowed themselves to be photographed in hunting garb. Bill Clinton posed in camouflage while holding a dead duck. John Kerry went him one better in a news photo that showed the candidate coming out of a cornfield wearing a camouflage parka and holding a dead goose.
On the Republican side, there was George W. Bush, campaigning to be governor of Texas, allowing himself to be filmed while taking part in a dove shoot. Unfortunately, the camera caught him shooting a killdeer, a protected bird, which he had mistaken for a dove. Bush paid a fine. There was also the quail-hunting episode involving Vice President Dick Cheney. The less said about that, the better.
Still, it must be good politics to be seen as a hunter. Otherwise, politicians wouldn’t do it. They’d keep their gun collections as secret as their mistresses. (Sorry…that may not be the best analogy in the case of Giuliani.) So let’s consider this idea of sending presidential candidates (not just Giuliani) on a hunting trip somewhere to buff up their pro-gun credentials.
For years now, some friends and I have paddled into the Adirondacks in early October to hunt deer during the muzzleloader season. Everyone in our group hunts with flintlocks — no caps — so we are purists. The rifles we use would have been antiques by the time of the American Civil War but they shoot as straight now as they did when Revolutionaries used them to unhorse arrogant, red-coated British officers at places like Saratoga and made America possible. When you are teaching a kid about guns, the place to start is with a BB-gun. With an adult like Giuliani, loading and firing a flintlock is probably the way to be introduced to the mysteries of firearms and to learn why so many people feel what they do for guns.
So let’s run down the list of announced candidates. Would we want any of them, including Giuliani, to come into the woods with us for a week in the hope that they might learn something about guns and people who care about them?
Hillary Clinton? You gotta be kidding. Likewise John Edwards. He may be from a rural state and humble beginnings, but he is a trial lawyer through and through. Obama? Nah. Sensitive city kid. Of the other Democrats, only Bill Richardson is a possible. Seems like he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Of the Republicans, I’m pretty sure Mitt Romney would be blackballed from our group for the simple reason that he waited until last year to join the NRA and then signed up for a lifetime membership. We might be for sale, but we don’t get bought that cheap.
McCain? By all means. Even if he didn’t like the guns or the hunting, he would make a superb companion, and you know he could tell some stories around the fire. And, then, there is Rudolph Giuliani, who now tells interviewers that he appreciates the hunting tradition, honors the Second Amendment, and appreciates why rural people feel the way they do about guns.
On the one hand, you know that in many ways, even though he is a city boy and will never be Rudy Bumpo, he is “one of us.” That he doesn’t feel the kind of sneering, condescending contempt for us that the people whose city he rescued — and who despised him for it — feel. We are not unworthy, uncivilized primitives in his eyes. And, of course, we admire his toughness and guts and the way he handled himself when he was mayor. Especially in the time after the towers came down.
Still … the man is a prosecutor. A remorseless prosecutor like the Jack McCoy character on Law and Order who, once he has someone in his sights, will find a law he broke or figure out a way to convince a jury of it, anyway he can. That, or scare him into making a deal. There is something intimidating and chilling to ordinary citizens about this kind of prosecutor. You get Patrick Fitzgeralds throwing journalists in jail and relentlessly pursuing the conviction of someone for lying to investigators about something that was not a crime. Prosecutors like that routinely stretch existing laws about guns into all sorts of grotesque shapes.
These guys play by Kafka’s rules. They aren’t the kind of people you feel comfortable with, standing around a campfire, passing a bottle of bourbon, and telling lies. Giuliani would probably be as relieved to get out of the woods and away from us as we would be to see him go.
Would any of us vote for him?
Hard to say. If he changed his views on gun control once, what is to keep him from changing them again? Either the law is clear or it isn’t. When something is a “right,” it should not be contingent on one man’s shifting political ambitions and jurisdictions. That kind of “right” isn’t much of one at all, and people who believe in the right to bear arms think of it as a whole lot more substantial and fundamental than that.
Rudy Bumpo could kill a buck, eat its liver, and have his face painted with the animal’s blood, and there would probably still be a lot of people who wouldn’t buy it.
– Geoffrey Norman is editor of vermonttiger.com.