In a May 22 Washington Post article, staff writer Michael D. Shear wrote that a comment by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "managed to tweak [former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt] Romney [R] on ... his support for gun rights (he once bragged about bagging small varmints)," but Shear left out the real reason that Romney was "bragg[ing] about bagging small varmints." In fact, Romney's comments regarding his experience hunting "small varmints" were not simply a boast about his support for gun rights, but an attempt to clarify his prior claim of having been a lifelong hunter -- a claim reportedly undermined by his staff.
On April 3, Romney told a Keene, New Hampshire, audience: "I purchased a gun when I was a young man. I've been a hunter pretty much all my life." On April 4, the Associated Press reported that a Romney spokesman confirmed that Romney had actually been hunting only twice in his life -- once as a 15-year-old, when he hunted rabbits with his cousins, and once in 2006, when he hunted quail with major donors to the Republican Governors Association. On April 5, Romney gave a different version of his hunting history from that of his staff, claiming during a press conference: "I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear. I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times."
On April 6, Romney released a statement in which he asserted: "I've hunted small game numerous times, as a young man and as an adult." On April 7, the AP reported:
Romney was born in Michigan, where he lived in the wealthy Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. After completing his undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, he moved to Massachusetts in 1971. He received a joint law-business degree from Harvard University, launched a successful business career and raised his family.
Romney and his wife, Ann, have two vacation homes, a lake house in New Hampshire and a ski house outside Park City, Utah.
Officials from Michigan, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where a license is necessary to hunt such small game, said they could not immediately locate any license for Romney. An official in Utah said a change in state law last year blocked public access to license records.
Of the four states, Utah has the most liberal hunting regulations for small game. Jack rabbits can be hunted without a license and killed without limit, but cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares require a license.
The AP also reported that Romney's staff refused "to provide details about his hunting history, including whose gun he used, with whom he hunted and whether he hunted in Utah as a college student or as an adult."
From the May 22 Washington Post article:
The Des Moines Register survey, which showed Romney with a 12-point lead over the field, was its first take on the 2008 campaign, so it's impossible to measure Romney's movement. It also did not specifically test former senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee or former House speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, both of whom may run.
The result may be more attacks aimed in Romney's direction. During a conference call yesterday, McCain lashed out at Romney on immigration, saying, "Maybe his solution will be to get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his lawn."
The comment managed to tweak Romney on both his support for gun rights (he once bragged about bagging small varmints) and a past controversy involving his lawn service employing illegal immigrants, including one from Guatemala.