When Gov. Nikki Haley uploaded a photo of one of her Christmas presents to social media Thursday, some of her followers saw it as just another day in the life of a South Carolina politician.
But a few were taken aback when they saw the picture of the 9 mm pistol that Haley said Santa - it was actually her husband - got for her.
"Our family had a wonderful Christmas together!" the governor wrote Thursday morning on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. "I must have been good. Santa gave me a Beretta PX4 Storm."
The post harkened back to four years ago, when she first faced state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Democrat and a gun owner from Camden, in the race for the governor's mansion. Then, both candidates tried to assert themselves as the most strident defender of the Second Amendment.
In a time of heightened debate on gun control, voters could see more of the same leading up to their anticipated rematch in November 2014.
"I wouldn't say it's shocking," said Neal Thigpen, a former professor at Francis Marion University and longtime observer of state politics. "But usually, the Republicans don't have to reach for the gun voters. It's usually the Democrats with guns saying, 'I'm a Democrat, but I'm a South Carolina Democrat.'"
Through his campaign manager, Sheheen took a pass on addressing the photo. In a statement released Thursday by the S.C. Democratic Party, Andrew Whalen instead extended Sheheen's best wishes.
"Vincent had a wonderful holiday with his family," Whalen said. "We hope everyone had a Merry Christmas."
Haley's posts quickly spread across the Internet and attracted attention from national news media.
In its first six hours, the Facebook version of the photo had been "liked" 13,000 times and shared by 1,300 people.
Most of the 1,500 comments on the post showed support for Haley. Many people said it evoked pride in the Palmetto State. One expressed a desire to move from an "uptight" New England state to a more firearms-friendly place like South Carolina.
"You're my kind of governor," another said.
But a smattering of Facebook users didn't like what they saw.
One asked why Haley would need a gun as a governor. One noted how South Carolina has been ranked consistently in the Top 10 for its number of homicides by firearms.
"In your position it's not right to advocate this," a Richland County resident wrote about gun ownership. "You lose my vote."
Haley has held a concealed-weapons permit since 2007, and Thursday's post was just a light moment in her personal life, said her spokesman, Doug Mayer.
Mayer wouldn't say whether Haley plans to carry the gun, whether she sees a need to have it for self-defense in Columbia or whether she owns other pistols. He also wouldn't say whether Haley had political reasons for posting the picture.
"She has lots of things on her Facebook page," Mayer said. "She shares lots of things from her personal life."
The Beretta PX4 Storm Compact can hold 15 9 mm rounds in its magazine and another one in its chamber. Its Italian manufacturer touts the 6.8-inch-long handgun as ideal for concealed carry by citizens and police officers alike.
It sells for about $575.
With a double action and an exposed trigger, the gun bares similarities to the Beretta M9, the standard-issue pistol for the U.S. military. Haley's husband, Capt. Michael Haley of the Army National Guard, returned this month from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
The governor herself is no stranger to firearms. In July, a video that Haley's camp uploaded to YouTube showed her shooting military-grade pistols and automatic rifles at FN Manufacturing in Columbia.
The Beretta that Haley's husband picked out isn't a gun that Chris Badgett, general manager of ATP Gun Shop and Range near Summerville, would recommend for most women.
The store handled a bevy of shoppers from both sexes looking to put guns under the tree for their significant others this Christmas, Badgett said.
For most women looking to carry a gun for self-defense, he typically recommends a .38-caliber revolver, which has less of a recoil and fewer moving parts than the semi-automatic pistol.
"But for women who are active shooters, the Beretta is a really good choice," he said. "It's small, lightweight and real reliable."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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