As November's midterms grow nearer, candidates are using any means necessary to get a leg-up on their opponents. For many, apparently, that means courting media attention by wielding a larger gun than their political rival.

On NPR, Linton Weeks reports an ever-expanding number of political hopefuls who are eager to be seen visibly gun-toting or posed in "locked-and-loaded" press photos. The writer notes that Arizona candidate Jesse Kelly wields an assault rifle, Russ Carnahan is shown pointing a pistol at a target, Lou Ann Zelenik is seen testing her skills at a target range, and former Tea Party candidate Christina Jeffrey brandished an AK-47 while "extolling the virtues of the Second Amendment." The list, which includes many female candidates, apparently goes on and on:

"It's product differentiation," says Mac McCorkle, who teaches the politics of public policy at Duke University and the University of North Carolina. "In a big Republican year with a crowded field, a primary candidate posing with a gun is a quick attention-getting symbol or message to people that 'I'm really conservative.'" Such a message, McCorkle says, especially appeals to the base voters — those most likely to be voting in the primaries.
And, yes, posing with enormous weaponry is a time-tested American political tradition:
Presidential hopeful John Kerry, decked out in duck hunting gear and hoisting a shotgun, vogued for the camera in 2004. You can find photos of Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York firing a pistol, and news of his own first foray into the world of hunting (he shot three pheasants last year while hunting with Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska). And of course there is the iconic picture of 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis standing behind a gun in the turret of an M-1 Abrams tank — an image that did not work out well for him.