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You better watch out. You better not cry. You better take cover. I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town, and he's got a gun.

A Christmas card mailed by one of Washington's leading gun-control opponents makes it seem that way.

The card, sent to about 1,300 people nationwide by a lobbyist for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, shows Jolly Old St. Nick parachuting Rambo-like into a community like yours, carrying an automatic weapon.

While such a Christmas card would be new for Hallmark, it's nothing new for John Michael Snyder, public affairs director for the citizens committee. Last year, his Christmas card showed Michael the Archangel in an urban back alley, pumping lead into a drug dealer.

Snyder said his cards are part of his job -- to fight gun control any way he can. He said he never gets complaints about them, except from ministers who "exhibit the pompous pedantry of pacifist pruneheads."

Pacifists, predictably, were perturbed at Snyder's latest holiday greeting.

"To us, it's irrational and bizarre to be doing this at a time when we're supposed to be focusing on peace and joy," said Gwen Fitzgerald, associate director of Handgun Control Inc. in Washington. "What's really a concern is what this shows to kids. Here we have more and more kids getting killed, often by other kids, and now the nation's children will see Santa dropping in with an assault weapon."

President Bush, his Cabinet, and the 535 members of the Congress also got Snyder's Christmas greeting.

Snyder, who left the National Rifle Association two decades ago because he found it to be too liberal, said his Citizens Committee now gets contributions from 500,000 people a year.

Ms. Fitzgerald conceded that Snyder's annual Christmas card publicity stunt serves its purpose.

"It is very eye-catching," she said.

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