On Saturday, the White House released a picture of President Barack Obama skeet shooting at Camp David, Md.
Within 24 hours, the instantly iconic photo had been photo-shopped and deconstructed hundreds of times. Predictably, it didn't assuage the doubters.
Everything about the image from the angle of the gun ("way too low for skeet shooting") to the color of the background foliage ("those trees are very similar to the trees at terrorist training camps in Kenya") has become grist for the conspiracy mill.
For many "skeet skeptics," lapping up Sarah Palin's tall tales of shooting and skinning moose in the Alaskan wilderness is a lot easier than imagining Mr. Obama blasting clay pigeons. He'll always be the effete liberal of the right wing's fevered imagination, no matter how many hundreds are killed in drone strikes he personally orders or al-Qaida scalps he collects.
Even though Mr. Obama earned a failing grade from gun control advocacy groups during his first term by opening up federal parks and lands to those with concealed weapon permits, he continues to be painted as an agent of confiscatory desire by a paranoid strain of gun rights advocates. The NRA has convinced tens of thousands of citizens that Mr. Obama is about to use tyrannical executive powers to seize some of the 300 million guns now in circulation.
Even as the White House and a skittish Congress move toward inevitable compromises on relatively mild gun control measures like universal background checks and banning certain high-capacity magazines, the NRA continues to put the most sinister spin possible on even the most benign efforts.
Last week, conservative activist Gayle Trotter testified in Senate hearings that a mother protecting her children from marauding hordes of meth-addled killers needs assault weapons around the house if she's going to have peace of mind. One day, law and order will collapse and the flesh-eaters will come knocking with impunity. A mom has to be ready.
"An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon," Ms. Trotter said with a straight face. No one laughed at the "Deliverance"-style imagery Ms. Trotter conjured.
In honor of Black History Month, NRA president David Keene reminded an interviewer at the conservative blog The Daily Caller that gun control has never been anything other than a plot to keep guns out of the hands of black people -- and that he wouldn't tolerate such obvious racism and denial of constitutional rights to Americans on his watch.
Chicago's murderous street gangs can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that there isn't any weapon the NRA chief would deny to a natural-born citizen under any circumstances, including a gang-banger.
"You know, when you go back in our history ... the initial wave of [gun control laws] was instituted after the Civil War to deny blacks the ability to defend themselves," Mr. Keene said, conveniently omitting mention of the NRA's backing for gun control efforts in the 1960s when they were aimed at groups like the Black Panthers.
Since right wing gun advocates argue that "tyrannical elites" are composed primarily of Democrats ("the original Klansmen"), Mr. Keene hopes Americans are smart enough to make the connection between the ascendency of liberal politics and the erosion of Second Amendment gun rights, especially for minorities.
Last week, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's CEO, echoed Ms. Trotter's testimony.
"What people all over the country fear today is being abandoned by their government," Mr. LaPierre told U.S. senators, including those who owe their seats to his organization's campaign funds. "If a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs, that they're going to be out there alone, and the only way they will protect themselves, in the cold, in the dark, when they are vulnerable, is with a firearm."
When Mr. LaPierre attempted his usual song-and-dance on "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace was ready.
"You really think [the apocalypse] is a more serious threat to the average American than the steady drum beat of gun violence and sometimes mass gun violence?" Mr. Wallace asked. It was a magnificent exercise of journalistic skepticism that quickly exposed the pompous gun industry henchman as a one-note demagogue whose performance is a lot funnier than the picture of the president skeet shooting.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.