This column has many children. We are so philoprogenitive, we can almost spell it. Last year, the Vatican sent us a gold-embossed commendation for our contribution to over-population.
OPINION: We would lay down our lives for a hair on our children's heads. So when we heard that the overseas wing of the National Rifle Association had taken the opportunity offered by this wise government to set up a charter school, we were overjoyed. Within minutes we were pressing the intercom button by the school portcullis.
"The NORA School of Freedom" proclaimed a banner strung between CCTV cameras. The birds were singing, the sun was glinting off the razor wire, the sniper on the watchtower was singing "Shove one up the breech for Jesus" and all seemed right with the world.
The strip search could not have been more politely conducted. Within minutes we were being led into the principal's study.
"I'm Packing," he said.
"Mr and Mrs Column," I said.
"That's packing with a small P," said the principal. "I'm packing heat."
"Are you going somewhere cold?" asked Mrs Column, bless her.
"Pat this, lady," said the principal, indicating a bulge in his armpit. "And this, and, if you fancy it, this."
By the time Mrs Column had done with patting she and the principal were getting along fine.
"Now perhaps you'd care for a tour of the safest school in this naive little country of yorn."
"Yorn?" asked Mrs Column but the principal was already heading down the corridor, opening the bulletproof hatches with a swipe of his electronic ID.
"Ain't no sadsack in the land," said the principal, "no goddam terrorist and no stinking Ayrab who ain't never heard of Jesus gonna find his way in here to hurt your little ones. Once they're inside these walls [and here he paused to bang on metre- thick ferro-concrete] your little honeys are gonna be safer than a safe in a safe."
I could hear Mrs Column purring.
Reaching into a cupboard, the principal emerged with a life-size wooden cutout of a torso and a head. It was endowed with Chinese eyes, Arabian head gear and African pigmentation. "Covers most of the bases," said the principal.
"Covers most of the world," I murmured, as the principal opened a classroom door and shoved the mannequin through. Instantaneous thunder. Mrs Column fell to her knees.
Then silence, laced with the fragrance of cordite. The principal withdrew the mannequin. It had more holes than the PGA tour.
"Come and meet 4A," said the principal, cheerfully, pushing open the door. 4A lay prone, their pump-actions propped on their Kevlar backpacks, their faces gleaming with joy. "How we do, Mr Principal sir?"
"Pretty darn good, 4A," said the principal, holding up the mannequin for inspection. "This sucker ain't gonna be going nowhere in a hurry. You all be having a Hershey bar. And why not mount Simon the Psycho here on the wall as a trophy? Just before we go, tell these good columnar folks what's the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun?"
"A good guy with a gun," chorused the 8-year-olds.
"Too dang right," said the beaming principal and we left 4A to their studies.
"Them's the words of the NRA's executive vice- president Wayne LaPierre, and I don't think I've heard it better put."
"Might it not be a better idea," I ventured, "to stop the bad guy getting a gun in the first place?"
The principal froze in mid- stride. "Well now, if we haven't got ourselves a real live hand-wringing, gay-marriage, Nascar-hating liberal. You any idea how many guns there are out there, my friend? That mustang's bolted so there ain't no point in shutting the stable door. And, besides, I don't want to be handing in my semi-automatic 20-rounds- a-second Bushmaster assault rifle that I need for keeping the squirrels down to any bonbon-eating government that I don't dang trust.
"You ever study history? You ever notice that it's just the story of fighting? Always has been, always will be, Mistah. There's good guys and there's bad guys and there ain't nothing to say the good guys gotta win. You can make all the laws you like, but it's only the good guys gonna heed them. The bad guys are gonna just carry on being bad till one of the good guys sticks a bullet in 'em. Pretend as much as you like, but that's the way of the world."
"He's got a point," said Mrs C as we made our way home. "No," I said.
Fish Like a Drink, a collection of the best of Joe Bennett's work, is published this week by HarperCollins.
- The Press