Is Obama's Position on the D.C. Gun Ban a Mystery?

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who last month claimed Barack Obama "has weighed in against the D.C. [gun] law," now describes the Illinois senator's position as "unrevealed": 

In response to my inquiry about his specific position, Obama's campaign e-mailed me a one-paragraph answer: Obama believes that while the "Second Amendment creates an individual right... he also believes that the Constitution permits federal, state and local government to adopt reasonable and common sense gun safety measures." Though the paragraph is titled "Obama on the D.C. Court case," the specific gun ban is never mentioned. I tried again, without success, last week to learn Obama's position before writing this column.

But at a February 15 press conference in Milwaukee, Obama made it pretty clear that, while he believes the Second Amendment protects an individual right to arms, he does not think Chicago's handgun ban or the D.C. gun law, which effectively prohibits keeping a firearm at home for self-defense, violates that right:

There's been a longstanding argument among constitutional scholars about whether the Second Amendment referred simply to militias or whether it spoke to an individual right to possess arms. I think the latter is the better argument. There is an individual right to bear arms, but it is subject to common-sense regulation, just like most of our rights are subject to common-sense regulation....I think that local jurisdictions have the capacity to institute their own gun laws...The City of Chicago has gun laws, as does Washington, D.C. I think the notion that somehow local jurisdictions can't initiate gun safety laws to deal with gang-bangers and random shootings on the street isn't borne out by our Constitution.

I pieced these quotations together from an A.P. story, an ABC News report, and a Chicago Tribune blog item; I haven't been able to locate a complete transcript. But Obama's meaning does not seem mysterious to me. Indeed, A.P. matter-of-factly reported that "he voiced support for the District of Columbia's ban on handguns"—although, to be fair to Novak, ABC News legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg interpreted Obama's remarks differently, saying "he declined...to take a position on whether the D.C. gun ban violates the Second Amendment."

This is not just nitpicking. Obama's past positions on gun control and recent statements about gun rights provide little reason to believe he takes the Second Amendment seriously. And as I've argued, it's hard to see what meaningful restrictions the Second Amendment imposes on gun control if something like the D.C. law can pass constitutional muster.

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  • LarryA||

    So he believes I have a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but government can prohibit gun ownership.

    It would be interesting to see how he translates the other two dozen rights in the first ten amendments.

  • JB||

    Use the counter-factual. So Obama believes the 1st Amendment protects an individual right to free speech, but that right is subject to heavy government restriction.

    You can have your freedom of speech. Just keep it in your house under lock and key. No protests allowed, no comments on blogs, etc.

  • LarryA||

    Guilt by association department from The Volokh Conspiracy:

    Obama's Other Spiritual Mentor: Rev. Michael Pfleger

    Christopher Hitchens' latest column in Slate states: "In April 2004, Barack Obama told a reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times that he had three spiritual mentors or counselors: Jeremiah Wright, James Meeks, and Father Michael Pfleger...

    The Westlaw database does not indicate that Sen. Obama has participated in the project which has gained Rev. Pfleger notoriety among Bill of Rights advocates: his persecution of Chuck's Gun Shop...

    In another demonstration at Chuck's Gun Shop, owned by John Riggio, Rev. Pfleger told the crowd: "We're going to find you and snuff you out....Like a rat you're going to hide. But like a rat, we're going to catch you and pull you out....We're going to snuff out John Riggio." Rev. Pfleger also promised: "We're going to snuff out legislators that are voting against our gun laws. We're coming for you because we're not going to sit idly."

    Rev. Pfleger later denied that his words had been meant to invoke violence, or that he had known that "snuff out" means to "kill." Rather, the determination to "snuff out" Riggio was a determination to find out his home address, which was not publically available.


  • Brandybuck||

    He sounds like the George W. Bush of the left: he believes you have the Constitutional right to due process and habeus corpus, but that the government can hold you indefinitely without trial.

    p.s. I despise the left for giving GW a free ride. They could have pounded him into submission and tap-danced the shimmy on his head, using only the US Constitution. But instead they chose to argue that his brand of Big Government wasn't exactly the sort ofBig Government they wanted.

  • MikeB||

    Well you could follow the original view that the Bill of Rights only applied to the Federal government. The DC gun ban would then easily pass constitutional muster.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "You have your right to ____________, except when we balance it with the interests of our rights to get votes." Is basically what he is saying.

  • ||

    Is this the same Robert Novak that outed a CIA agent (or operative or whatever) because he disagreed with her husband's politics? And if it is, why does he still have a job and why should I pay one iota of attention to what he says?

  • ||

    It's kind of like owning a star -- you have a right to do so, you just can't touch it and stuff.

    It's clear I'm not fit to be a constitutional scholar.

  • ||

    Saying "well, he's a doofus on the Second, so I infer he's a doofus on all the others" is rather silly. It's hardly a secret that many liberals are anti-second without being squishy elsewhere - don't people bitch about the ACLU for that very reason? And there are plenty of conservatives who are staunchly pro-Second, but wouldn't understand the Establishment clause if it were tattooed on their foreheads.

    This would all be more helpful if Obama's position were compared with that of Clinton and McCain. I mean, seriously - by this point, we all know that Obama isn't a libertarian.

  • Kolohe||

    Well you could follow the original view that the Bill of Rights only applied to the Federal government. The DC gun ban would then easily pass constitutional muster.

    "To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States,..."

  • Bingo||

    Obama : 2nd :: McCain : 1st

  • Colin||

    I read somewhere that he supported the banning of gun shops within a five-mile radius of schools.

    Which I guess means you could only buy a gun in the desert.

  • Other Matt||

    This would all be more helpful if Obama's position were compared with that of Clinton and McCain. I mean, seriously - by this point, we all know that Obama isn't a libertarian.

    He's a socialist, but are you saying on the 2nd or on the entire bill of rights?

    On the 2nd, Billary is the source of the nonsensical label ban, or the semiautomatic rifle ban, or something like that. To my understanding she's never distanced herself from that.

    McCain hasn't had so staunch a history, but at least he's being unequivocal of late in supporting the 2nd amend as to the plain language of what it says.

    Obama has a long history of aggressive gun "control", supported banning semiautomatic firearms (joe can't seem to understand the difference between firearms and rifles, one encompasses handguns too), and generally only moderates his speech lately to try to hide his obvious hostility to gun owners.

    I won't take the time for all of them, but if you're looking at the 2nd, that pretty much sums it up.

  • Geotpf||

    Well, your choices in the upcoming election will be between Obama, who might (or might not) agree to significant restrictions on private ownership of guns, or McCain, who might very well send Americans with guns to shoot at Iranians and start World War III. (Voting for the LP candidate or any other minor candidate is a vote to not affect the outcome of the race; that is, you think the two major party candidates are equally bad and you don't really care which one wins.)

    Choose carefully.

  • Jorgen||

    I think this is quintessential Obama in that he has an opinion that is at best difficult to justify, in this case that it's constitutional to ban firearms, but acknowledges that the arguments that others are making on his side, in this case that the right is solely a collective right, are stupid, so he comes up with a new, slightly more plausible but still implausible justification for his position. Obama is what you get when you have some one smart enough to be a scholar, too intellectually honest to act like a normal politician, but either too liberal or too committed to his own election to be completely intellectually honest. For another example, take free trade, where he rejects the stupid arguments that free trade bankrupts our economy in favor of the plausible ones that there are externalities to communities associated with factory closures that aren't accounted for in business decisions, so the government should keep things a little sticky and that environmental laws should extend to products produced for the US market abroad.

  • ||

    I was referring specifically to the second. But to be perfectly honest, this is an issue that's way far down my priority list in this election - especially since the courts are gradually coming around to a more literal reading. It just struck me that this was another 'oh noes Obama isn't a libertarian' post... I wonder sometimes if certain of the Reason writers aren't trying to talk themselves into McCain.

  • Other Matt||

    It just struck me that this was another 'oh noes Obama isn't a libertarian' post... I wonder sometimes if certain of the Reason writers aren't trying to talk themselves into McCain.

    I don't know about that, it's just high irritation to me when people carry on about Obama due to his lack of substance. This is a pretty clear example of it.

    At least with Hillary or McCain, you pretty much know what you are getting. With Obama, the one person is right; he might, he might not, and fill in whatever blank after that you want.

    Beyond the 2nd amend, this should worry the hell out people, at least those who think it through and pay attention to what he's saying and has done rather than getting suckered by presentation. But hey, if you're thinking a socialist is what we need, I can see the attraction. I strongly disagree, but I can see the attraction.

  • MJ||

    "Saying "well, he's a doofus on the Second, so I infer he's a doofus on all the others" is rather silly."

    peachy, because in the quotes from Obama in the original post, Obama himself says he's a doofus on all other rights.

    "There is an individual right to bear arms, but it is subject to common-sense regulation, just like most of our rights are subject to common-sense regulation..."

    He says that the right to bear arms is just like most other rights, and what he considers "common-sense" regulation almost completely negates the right to bear arms. It is difficult to see which constitutional right he would not be similarly squishy on.

  • ||

    He says that the right to bear arms is just like most other rights, and what he considers "common-sense" regulation almost completely negates the right to bear arms. It is difficult to see which constitutional right he would not be similarly squishy on.

    That's a good point. I guess we can just hope that he doesn't see our other rights as being dangerous, since that seems to be his justification for being really restrictive of guns. I'd certainly rather have better protection, but it sadly beats McCain and Clinton, both of whom seem quite convinced that people having rights is dangerous and must be curtailed.

  • ||

    Is Obama really that opaque? Certainly he doesn't have the track record of McCain, or even Clinton, but if you can call him a socialist with a straight face, then you've pretty much predicted what his stance is going to be on most issues, not so?

    "Common-sense regulation" is a worrying phrase, I agree. Unfortunately, it's squarely in the modern main-stream - god knows the various branches of government have approved all kinds of restrictions on other amendments, in the process virtually wiping out the fourth, fifth, ninth and tenth.

    As libertarians we should be used to having our choices - our meaningful, non-protest choices - reduced to differing shades of bad. This election is no different. You don't have to say "I want a socialist!" to think that Obama is preferable to the alternatives. (It's easy for me to say this, of course - I'll be living in Illinois in November. But it is a live issue for libertarians in states that will actually be in play.)

  • alan||

    s this the same Robert Novak that outed a CIA agent (or operative or whatever) because he disagreed with her husband's politics? And if it is, why does he still have a job and why should I pay one iota of attention to what he says?

    Novak did not support the war in Iraq which is the policy that would be under disagreement here. As for outing a CIA agent, if a politico comes to you and you are a reporter, you should go ahead and report it because the damage has already been done, and the CIA has a better chance at damage control if it is aware of the outing early through a news report than to learn through back channels much later that the breach had occurred.

  • adrian||

    It's called doublespeak. Get used to it.

    Statists suck, both on the left and on the right.

  • ||

    MikeB said:

    "Well you could follow the original view that the Bill of Rights only applied to the Federal government. The DC gun ban would then easily pass constitutional muster."

    The government of the District of Columbia derives its authority from the U.S. Congress. The Second Amendment, therefore, applies directly to it without the need to discuss incorporation via the Fourteenth.

    Try reading the Constitution next time.

  • SIV||


    Statists suck, both on the left and on the right.


    So who is our "statist on the right" choice this election? Bob Barr?

  • To expand on that thought||

    right (as in durecho, mostly as in correcto)
    => individualism
    => at odds with statism most of the time

  • ||

    If I see one more person announce that Obama's a socialist, I'm going to start crushing people's nuts with a tire iron. Obama's no further left on economic matters than Bill Clinton. Indeed, if you check pro-Hillary blogs they spend a good chunk of their pissing and moaning that Obama is a stealth moderate and being outraged that he said nice things about Reagan.

  • ||

    At least Obama hasn't tried to demonstrate his 2nd Amendment chops by going out on a photo-op goose "hunt."

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Here is how gun control works in Chicago.

    To legally possess a handgun, one must register it. Registration forms have been unavailable to the public for over twenty years.

    Of course, one who is white, wealthy, and connected to the Daley junta can get a registration form.

    Of course, they really do not need it. A black person caught with an unregistered handgun is arrested, while a white person caught with an unregistered handgun gets a warning...and the gun back.

    And a Daley crony can drive drunk, spit in the face of the police officer who pulled him over, be caught with a handgun with the serial numbers filed off (a federal offense), and still get the gun back, let alone be on his merry way.

  • Zip Coon||

    Of course, they really do not need it. A black person caught with an unregistered handgun is arrested, while a white person caught with an unregistered handgun gets a warning...and the gun back.


    Dat be some White Privilege you enjoyin' der Mistuh Ejercito.

  • ||

    So who is our "statist on the right" choice this election?



    John McCain.

  • Brett||

    This is doublespeak which tries to make it sound as if he's not entirely against the 2A, but he's quite rabidly anti-gun if you ask me, and this is an important issue to me. He clearly doesn't have any issue at all with the DC gun ban, which is frightening. Sorry, but you don't believe in an individual's right to possess guns (in any useful fashion) if you don't have a problem with DC's law. He also recently came out against concealed carry.

    That's enough for me.

  • TallDave||

    "just like most of our rights are subject to common-sense regulation"

    See, it's just common sense that no one should be allowed to have guns. Anyone who thinks otherwise just doesn't have any common sense! Perhaps they should put in an asylum.

    What's that, you say? First Amendment? Well, it's just common sense that anyone who criticizes a common sense regulation is insane. It's for their own good.

    Think of the children!

  • ||

    So both the Obama quotes affirm an individual right to bear arms, but he says that DC (& other cities) have the right to common sense regulations.
    This somehow is being read that he is defending the DC gun law at issue in the Supreme Court case?
    Gosh, without my Special Right-Wing Secret Decoder Glasses, I really don't see that in his words, but rather, as Novak & others cited say, a general statement, silent on the specifics of the DC case.

  • Brett||

    You can't be that dense. He explicitly references DC just after expressing support for "common sense gun laws". I guess that's why doublespeak is so big with politicians, so many people get fooled by it. All he had to do was say "I support and individual's right" and he's suddenly Wayne LaPierre. No need to pay attention to the part that begins with "but...".

    Regardless of how you want to interpret this doublespeak, his voting record in Illinois removes any doubt on where he stands on this.

  • ||

    You're either for us or you're a'gin us.

  • ||

    He didn't say the DC and Chicago laws were constitutional; he dodged, and said that DC and Chicago can have gun laws. Even in the quote you provide, he doesn't address the question asked, one way or the other. Pretty dodgy.

    As he is currently running for the Democratic nomination, I'd guess that he's hiding the fact that his position is to the right of Democratic primary voters, but that's just a guess.

  • ||

    Obviously, he supports more gun regulation than passes muster among H&R regulars, but I don't think that actuallly tells us very much.

  • ||

    Give Obama credit where credit is due: he is not stupid. The Dems are still smarting from their well deserved smackdown in the 1994 congressional races, and their defeats in the 2000 and 2004 presidential contests. They are well aware of why they lost those contests. Notice Chuckie Schumer actively recruited nominally pro-gun democrats to finally regain control of both houses of congress in the 2006 cycle. Obama, Hillary and the core of the party are still left wing gun grabbers, they've just learned how to hide it better. They are hoping the American electorate is too stupid to remember more than who won the last "American Idol" season or what rehab program Brittany Spears is in this week. We'll all just have to stay tuned to find out if they are right.

  • LarryA||

    Well you could follow the original view that the Bill of Rights only applied to the Federal government. The DC gun ban would then easily pass constitutional muster.

    The fact that D.C. is run by the Federal Government is one reason the Second Amendment side chose to mount a Supreme Court challenge there, so inclusion wouldn't be an issue.

    It just struck me that this was another 'oh noes Obama isn't a libertarian' post... I wonder sometimes if certain of the Reason writers aren't trying to talk themselves into McCain.

    I certainly am. I started the election convinced that Clinton was the worst, the candidate where I'd vote for anyone else instead of her. She's now third from the bottom. In order of repugnance my Final Four are Huckabee, Obama, Clinton, McCain. Note I haven't changed my opinion about Clinton.

    It's been a very depressing election.

    As he is currently running for the Democratic nomination, I'd guess that he's hiding the fact that his position is to the right of Democratic primary voters, but that's just a guess.

    Given that a lot of Democratic primary voters are union members who go hunting and vote pro-gun (and were a factor in the 2004 election) I doubt he's that far right. If so, Obama's anti-gun Illinois and U.S. voting record doesn't provide much cover.

  • ||

    So, in Obama's mind, a ban on handgun ownership is "common-sense regulation."

    Which reminds me: Hows that liberaltarian alliance thingy going?

    He didn't say the DC and Chicago laws were constitutional; he dodged, and said that DC and Chicago can have gun laws.

    Sure, he didn't say in so many syllables "I do/don't think the D.C. and Chicago laws are Constitutional." That alone should worry you, joe, that he won't take a clear position on a current and well-defined issue.

    That aside, I think the implication he wants his audience to take from this is clear: he thinks those laws are Constitutional.

    Sure, he left himself some Clintonesque wiggle room to reverse course if it becomes expendient later. Is that the New Politics he's always on about? Because it sure smells like the same ol, same ol' to me.

  • ||

    I suppose it's fortunate, from the standpoint of democracy, that such a high-profile gun case is going to be ruled on by the Supreme Court during the election campaign.

    The candidates aren't going to be able to avoid substantive answers then, as the SCOTUS ruling is going to give the issue - at least, the narrow issue of D.C/'s ban - a high profile.

    They are well aware of why they lost those contests. Record-low Democratic turnout, and Ralph Nader. Not seeing the gun connection.

  • ||

    That alone should worry you, joe

    Uh, yeah, the fact that one of the candidates is choosing to finesse a question about gun laws, in 2008, seven months before the election and before the nomination is settled, just leap-frogged Iraq, the economy, global warming, torture, habeas corpus, and politicized federal prosecutors' offices on my list of worrisome things.

  • TallDave||

    I really wish this primary would finish so we could figure out where Obama actually stands on something.

    It seems like half his advisors are always telling people the opposite of what he says.

  • ||

    "They are well aware of why they lost those contests. Record-low Democratic turnout, and Ralph Nader. Not seeing the gun connection."

    Bill Clinton himself credited the 1994 take over of the House of Representatives to the backlash against the Assault Weapons Ban. He also blamed Gore's losses of Clinton's home state of Arkansas and Gore's home state of Tennessee in 2000 to Gore's pronounced anti-gun rhetoric. Kerry was able to hold on to his own home state in the Peoples Republic of Massachusetts in 2004 but it was never really in play. However, his ticket lost his VP nominee's home state. Remember the big anti Kerry rallies in the rust belt states hosted by the NRA? The evening news showed NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre addressing a hall filled with UAW and other union jackets. Those should have been Kerry supporters. When elections are close, it often doesn't take much to tip one either way. You may not "see the gun connection" but, trust me, the Democratic Party's leadership does

  • ||

    I'd guess that he's hiding the fact that his position is to the right of Democratic primary voters, but that's just a guess.

    And so speaks the partisan shill attempting to pull in right of center voters.

    You are not guessing you are hoping a cloud of mystery can squeak this anti-gun rights advocate through.

  • ||

    I really wish this primary would finish so we could figure out where Obama actually stands on something.

    He is for pulling troops out of Iraq....other then that he is for everything that is good and for everything that is good.

    According to joe that is all you need to know.

    To bad he is not going to win. It would have been funny to read joe's bullshit after Obama makes his "Why I have decided to stay in Iraq" speech.

  • ||

    Obama's positions on gun control are comprehensively documented in Wikipedia with citations to the original sources.

  • ||

    Bill Clinton himself credited the 1994 take over of the House of Representatives to the backlash against the Assault Weapons Ban. So, Bill Clinton blamed the loss on something more closely associated with the Congress than with his presidency? All right, then.

    If that had been the case, we would have expected to see high turnout for the Republicans, which didn't happen.

    He also blamed Gore's losses of Clinton's home state of Arkansas and Gore's home state of Tennessee in 2000 to Gore's pronounced anti-gun rhetoric. Once again, and not on his scandals?

    Regardless, absent Nader, neither of those would have made a difference. Gore would have picked up Florida and at least on southwestern state.

    I'm not terribly surprised to see an official of a lobbying group trumpet his own influence, nor a politician pass the buck.

  • ||

    Oh, joshua.

    As you demonstrate with impressive predictability, my bullshit is ALWAYS worth reading.

  • ||

    DDS, I think you've got a stronger point about 2000 than 1994.

  • ||

    The pile of shit "Vote for Obama cuz it is hard to muddle through his position on gun control" is not worth reading joe only worth finding so you don't step into it.

  • ||

    "I suppose it's fortunate, from the standpoint of democracy, that such a high-profile gun case is going to be ruled on by the Supreme Court during the election campaign."

    Yes, and it will remind voters of about the only reason left to vote Republican over Democrat. It seems extremely unlikely Barack would appoint the sort of judges that would produce rulings most Liberty-minded people would be happy with.

    That, and I heard he's an athiest Mooslim.

  • Nick||

    to mike b
    If you were to research your geography a little better you would find out that Washington DC is a federal district. So it would fall under the rules, regualations, and rights set forth by the federal government.

  • ||

    itz teh end uv teh thread, and joe iz dumm.

  • ||

    The 2nd amendement is clear-the people have a RIGHT to own and bear arm-and that right shall not be restricted or curtailed by the government! States DO NOT have the right to disobey the Constitution and limit citizen rights. I urge Sen Obama to clearify his position on this important subject.

  • ||

    Neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton support the 2nd amendment in any meaningful way. Both are on the wrong side of the issue and that is a main reason for NOT bringing it up unless someone else does. Barack Obama does not support concealed carry and apparently supports the idiotic laws that D.C. has used to deprive its residents of their 2nd amendment guarantee. It is not negotiable and subject to every repressive whim of local governments and Fenty's folly. Why people would even consider voting for candidates who show between misunderstanding and disdain for the Constitution and suspend it at the drop of a hat is beyond me. Neither are a friend of any firearm owner, or anyone else who ever might want to own a firearm for personal protection and that of their family. If you can try obfuscation, then just use prevarication and evasion of the issue.

  • ||

    Obama or the Witch, both of these lying socialist creeps would rather see law abiding U.S. citizens outlined in chalk on the ground, than be permitted to have the only effective means of deterrence within their reach. And the liberal loving and historically left leaning Republican currently redefining himself as a pro gun conservative is completely beyond trustworthyness.

    The tpical white, law abiding gun owner tends to be a quiet, peace loving, low keyed guy or gal who is too preoccupied with work and family to make waves in any meaningful way. It's no overstatement to say that our freedoms and personal security, even in our own homes,is at stake. Those of us who understand what is going on (and we're in the millions) need to rekindle the spirit of 1776 and employ the tactics of Dr. MLK in order to address the injustice and dangers of our day and to avoid something far worse.

    It's a good time to join the NRA, SAF, JPFO and get armed if your not already.

  • Homer||

    OBAMA and BILLARY ARE SOCIALISTS!!!!!!!

  • ||

    Although Mr. Obama, mentions "local gun safety laws to deal with gang-bangers and random shootings on the street". What about the right of individuals to protect them selves from these criminals. Both in the home or on the street the "right of the people" should out way the misuse of a criminal.
    Obama should scare anyone that believes in freedom's we have been entrusted with.

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