Dec. 3, 2001: In the short time I have been in the column-writing business, I have learned that strong opinions evoke strong reactions.

When you agree, you let me know quickly and when you don’t, I find that out in a hurry, too. For example, one reader reacted to my comments last week by suggesting I give up this space permanently and “go fishing.” A great idea – the fishing part, I mean.

My sources tell me the journalism professors at the University of Georgia are still harrumphing after I suggested they quit worrying about how the United States conducts the war on terrorism and spend more of their time trying to restore the confidence of the American people in the integrity of the media, which is a little wobbly right now. Their reaction was to attack the messenger instead of the message. They not only missed me, they missed the point.

But nothing prepared me for the underhanded and nefarious reaction of the squirrel lobby. A few months back, I reported on efforts to rid my bird feeders of squirrels so my feathered friends could reclaim what is rightfully theirs. Many readers sent suggestions as to how to outsmart the little varmints but, frankly, some solutions would have taken NASA scientists to implement. I had already decided to employ the most direct method possible – a genuine Red Ryder BB gun. The results have been mixed, to put the best face on the situation.

At first, I could squeeze off a few shots at the squirrels before they ran. Then the critters would scamper when they heard the back door open. Now they begin a mass exodus when they hear the key in the lock that opens the back door. Frustration and tension abound on all sides. I can’t get off a shot and the squirrels can’t eat in peace.

While I was busy consoling the national media because the United States seems to be winning the war handily without their help, the squirrels were taking their case to Washington. Lo and behold, the ever-vigilant folks at the Consumer Product Safety Commission have filed suit against Daisy Manufacturing Company, which produces Red Ryder, declaring that the gun is unsafe. Obviously, they accepted the squirrels’ word without taking the time to watch me shoot. The only things unsafe in my yard are the hydrangeas, which are about fifteen feet from the bird feeders. I rarely ever miss them.

No one ever said squirrels aren’t sly and crafty little beasts. They recognized before any of the rest of us that the brave warriors of the Taliban can’t walk the talk and as soon as the good guys could locate Osama bin Laden and Sheik Omar Whoever, our government would have a lot of free time on its hands to worry about me and all the twelve-year-olds in the country who own BB guns.

The squirrels also capitalized on a political reality. The instigator of the lawsuit, Commission Chair Ann Brown, is a big-time consumer professional who probably never shot a Red Ryder in her life. If anybody knows anything about nuts, it is squirrels and if you want somebody liable to do something totally nutty, find a big-time consumer professional with too much time on her hands.

Brown and her fellow nuts on the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced they were filing the lawsuit because BBs might get stuck in the barrel and kids might think the gun was unloaded and might not have a daddy like mine who gravely predicted every time I picked up my Red Ryder as a kid that I was going to shoot my eye out. The one dissenter among the commissioners, Mary Sheila Gall, said the CPSC hadn’t been able to replicate the defect they claim makes Red Ryders dangerous. The other commissioners said it might happen anyway. Given that logic, Osama bin Laden might get plastic surgery and end up looking like Brad Pitt. Maybe Brad Pitt needs to sue all the plastic surgeons, just to be on the safe side.

If the Consumer Product Safety Commission suit is successful, some 7.5 million Red Ryders will be recalled. Make that 7,499,999. My Red Ryder isn’t going anywhere. I won’t be intimidated by a bunch of squirrels or a bunch of nuts in Washington. If they want war, they’ve got it. I just hope they will stand over by the hydrangeas so that Red and I have a fighting chance.