- Mar 9, 2005
- Litchfield, NH
KenBy DAVID KOPEL
April 17, 2008; Page A19
Mr. Obama supports the Second Amendment – or so his surrogates have been claiming all over Pennsylvania, the state with the highest per-capita membership in the National Rifle Association. The effort was set back last weekend with the publication of Mr. Obama's remarks claiming that people in small towns in Pennsylvania and other Midwestern states "cling" to guns because they are "bitter" that the government has not solved their economic problems.
Mrs. Clinton shot back with an excellent speech in Valparaiso, Ind., recounting that her father had taught her how to shoot when she was a little girl. "People enjoy hunting and shooting because it's an important part of who they are," she said. "Not because they are bitter."
Surely she is right. The shooting sports culture in Pennsylvania was thriving long before the domestic manufacture of steel began to decline. Indeed, that culture was thriving before steel was invented. Pennsylvania's 1776 state constitution declared "That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state . . ." A separate provision guaranteed "the liberty to fowl and hunt in seasonable times."
However, having the right to arms and the liberty to hunt is worthless if you can't buy a gun. In 1999, Mr. Obama urged enactment of a federal law prohibiting the operation of any gun store within five miles of a school or park. This would eliminate gun stores from almost the entire inhabited portion of the United States.
As a state senate candidate in 1996, Mr. Obama endorsed a complete ban on all handguns in a questionnaire. The Obama campaign has claimed he "never saw or approved the questionnaire," and that an aide filled it out incorrectly. But a few weeks ago, Politico.com found an amended version of the questionnaire. It included material added in Mr. Obama's handwriting.
When the U.S. Supreme Court voted last year to hear a case on the constitutionality of the Washington, D.C., handgun ban, Mr. Obama's campaign told the Chicago Tribune: "Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional" and that "local communities" should have the ability "to enact common sense laws." Other than Washington, D.C., the only American cities with handgun bans are Chicago and four of its suburbs. As a state senator, Mr. Obama voted against a 2004 bill (which passed overwhelmingly) to give citizens a legal defense against prosecution for violating a local handgun ban if they actually used the firearm for lawful self-defense on their own property.
Mr. Obama's campaign Web site touts his belief in the Second Amendment rights to have guns "for the purposes of hunting and target shooting." Conspicuously absent is the right to have firearms to defend one's self, home and family. In 2001, as a state senator, Mr. Obama voted against allowing the beneficiaries of domestic violence protective orders to carry handguns for protection.
Yet, as Mr. Obama has mockingly pointed out, Mrs. Clinton is not exactly a modern-day Annie Oakley wiling away weekends in a duck blind. As first lady, she helped organize the Million Mom March for "sensible gun laws" in 2000. It was led by the shrill gun prohibitionist Rosie O'Donnell.
Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly voted for antigun proposals, and co-sponsored many of them. After Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans and St. Tammany police confiscated guns from law-abiding citizens, violating an explicit Louisiana law. In some cases, the confiscation was carried out with the assistance of federal agents, and was perpetrated via warrantless break-ins into homes.
The next year, the U.S. Senate voted 84-16 for a homeland security appropriations rider stating: "None of the funds appropriated by this Act shall be used for the seizure of a firearm based on the existence of a declaration or state of emergency." Mrs. Clinton was one of the 16 who voted "no." Mr. Obama commendably voted with the majority.
Forty states currently allow most law-abiding adult citizens to carry concealed handguns for lawful protection, after a background check and (in almost all such states) a safety class. Of course those laws only apply to carrying within the relevant state. Mr. Obama told the Chicago Tribune in 2004 that he favored a national ban on concealed carry, to "prevent other states' laws from threatening the safety of Illinois residents." Mrs. Clinton campaigned against a licensed carry referendum in Missouri.
Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted against legislation to stop mayors from suing gun manufacturers and gun stores because of gun crime. That legislation banned lawsuits only if businesses had complied with all laws regarding firearms manufacture and sales.
A presidential candidate could of course swear devotion to the First Amendment, while declaring that the amendment's purpose is to protect sports reporting and book collecting. And that candidate could still support government lawsuits against publishers, local bans on newspapers, and draconian restrictions on political commentary.
Civil libertarians who supported such a candidate because of his alleged love for the First Amendment would be foolish. Civil libertarians who support Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton because of their purported fealty to the Second Amendment may be bitterly disappointed.