By James D. Agresti
April 17, 2012
Today, the Los Angeles Times published a house editorial claiming it is “baseless hype” that Obama wants to restrict gun rights. In particular, the editors criticize statements by the NRA and Mitt Romney that Obama is anti-gun and plans to undermine the Second Amendment through his Supreme Court appointments. To refute these allegations, the editors write that Obama:
• “has rarely mentioned the topic.”
• “hasn’t proposed any anti-gun legislation in his first term.”
• “supported” the Supreme Court’s ruling in D.C. v Heller, which upheld an individual right to bear arms.
All of these statements have an element of truth but are misleading by virtue of what is left unsaid. Though the president has rarely mentioned gun control in public, the Washington Post has reported the following about a meeting between leading gun control advocates Jim and Sarah Brady and Obama’s press secretary:
During the meeting, President Obama dropped in and, according to Sarah Brady, brought up the issue of gun control, “to fill us in that it was very much on his agenda,” she said.
“I just want you to know that we are working on it,” Brady recalled the president telling them. “We have to go through a few processes, but under the radar.”
• appointed a Supreme Court Justice (Sonia Sotomayor) who joined in an opinion declaring that “the use of arms for private self-defense does not warrant federal constitutional protection from state regulation,” and the Framers of the Constitution “did not write the Second Amendment in order to protect a private right of armed self-defense.”
• appointed another Supreme Court Justice (Elena Kagan) who recommend denying an appeal hearing for someone convicted of violating Washington, D.C.’s gun laws because, in her words, the man’s “sole contention is that the District of Columbia’s firearms statutes violate his constitutional right to ‘keep and bear arms.’ I’m not sympathetic.”
Furthermore, as a U.S. senator, Obama voted against the nomination of two justices who ruled in favor of an individual right to bear arms in D.C v Heller, and he also identified two other justices who ruled this way as people he would not have nominated to the Supreme Court. Obama didn’t say that gun control was as a reason he opposed any of these nominations, but nonetheless, if the president had his way, 4 of the 5 justices who ruled in favor of Heller would not have been on the Supreme Court.
Congruently, during the 2008 presidential race, Politico uncovered two candidate position questionnaires from Obama’s 1996 campaign for the Illinois state Senate. In both questionnaires, the question was posed, “Do you support state legislation to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns?” In both cases, the answer was “Yes.”
When these questionnaires became public, Obama’s campaign asserted that a staffer filled them out and some of the replies did not and do not reflect Obama’s views. However, an investigation by Politico found that one of the questionnaires contains written notes that appear to be in Obama’s hand, and the other questionnaire has a cover sheet indicating that Obama supplied the answers in a face-to-face interview at the house of a board member of the organization that issued the questionnaire. The board member has confirmed that Obama personally sat for this interview.
Additionally, two years later on July 2, 1998, Obama or one of his aides submitted a candidate position questionnaire advocating a “ban” on the “sale or transfer of all forms of semi-automatic weapons.”
Obama has publicly expressed support for gun rights since he began running for president, stating in 2008 that “I won’t take your handgun away” and “I believe in people’s lawful right to bear arms.” Nevertheless, Obama’s Supreme Court appointments, Senate votes, and reported statements to Jim and Sarah Brady are consistent with his previously declared agenda to restrict gun rights.