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|April 24-30, 2008
Clinton and Obama play with guns
by Paul Danish
When it comes to gun control, both Senators Clinton and Obama have — how shall we put this tactfully? — uh, inconvenient records. They both have supported measures that make them radioactive with gun owners who vote the issue.
But chances are it will be gun owners — gun-owning Reagan Democrats to be more precise — who decide the 2008 presidential election and possibly the Democratic nomination. So both candidates are trying to present themselves as friends of the firearm.
With regard to guns, Obama and Clinton have both crafted relatively similar narratives: They both support the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, subject only to “common sense” regulation.
They both firmly support the right to hunt.
And when people ask them what they mean by “common sense,” they both firmly support the right to change the subject. That’s because for both of them the phrase “common sense regulation” is unavoidably defined by the gun-control measures they have supported in the past — and those measures don’t pass the smell test as far as most gun owners are concerned.
Start with Obama.
As an Illinois state senate candidate, Senator Obama responded to a questionnaire that he favored a ban on all handguns. (When the questionnaire came to light a couple months ago, he tried to disown it, claiming an aide had filled it out without his knowledge; then a subsequent version of it surfaced with his handwritten notes on it.)
He once urged passage of a federal law banning operation of a gun store within five miles of a school, which would have put most gun stores out of business.
As a state senator, he voted against allowing the recipients of domestic violence protective orders to carry handguns for protection.
He told the Chicago Tribune he favors a national ban on concealed carry laws — laws which require states to issue concealed weapons permits to citizens who pass a background check and complete a gun-safety course. (Forty states have passed them in recent years.)
And of course, Senator Obama now has the added burden of his “bitter small town voters clinging to guns and god” crack — which denigrated both the Second Amendment and the beliefs of those who value it (not to mention the First Amendment).
Sen. Clinton, for her part, helped organize the Million Mom March, a gun-control rally in Washington, D.C., that ended up calling for bans on many categories of modern firearms and, more insidiously, pushed for so-called “safe storage” laws that prevent people from keeping loaded guns in their homes for self-defense.
She campaigned against a concealed-carry referendum in Missouri.
Most important, she supported both the Brady Bill, which mandated waiting periods and background checks for gun buyers, and the federal assault rifle ban, both of which passed during the first two years of Bill Clinton’s administration.
Both Bill Clinton and Tonya Metaksa, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, subsequently agreed that the massive political backlash from gun owners that the two measures elicited cost the Democratic Party control of the House of Representatives in the 1994 election. (The party didn’t regain control until 2006.) Clinton claimed the Democrats lost 20 house seats in 1994 over the measures; Metaksa put the number at 27.
Sens. Clinton and Obama seem to think the “common sense” mantra makes them sound moderate on gun issues, but — in the light of the measures they’ve supported in the past — gun owners generally interpret the phrase as code words for sweeping gun bans.
Sens. Clinton and Obama have a second credibility problem with gun owners as well. Both of them have cast their support of the Second Amendment in terms of protecting a right to hunt — and ignored the right to self-defense. Whatever else the Second Amendment is about, it is not about hunting rights, and most of the nation’s 60 or 70 million gun owners know it, even if Sens. Clinton and Obama don’t. When Democrats start talking about Second Amendment rights in terms of hunting they are trivializing the Second Amendment — and infuriating people who consider it as important as the First Amendment.
If Clinton and Obama really wanted to reach out to gun owners, they should say they have reconsidered their past views on gun control and decided they were wrong and in conflict with the Second Amendment, and that in the future they will show a decent respect for the right of individual Americans to keep and bear arms. They should also state, with precision and candor, exactly what they mean by “common sense” regulation.
This approach might be a hard sell, but at least it would have the virtue of not requiring them to portray their pasts as something they self-evidently aren’t.
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