Last night’s debate was the first time I have heard President Obama mention self-defense in the context of the Second Amendment. Until now, as far as I know, he has always talked about the constitutional right to keep and bear arms in connection with hunting and target shooting, a weirdly constrained view that suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of this provision's purpose, which is to protect people against aggressors (including aggressors who work for a tyrannical government). Evidently someone told Obama he was not saying the right words to reassure supporters of gun rights, because last night he amended his Second Amendment lip service:
We're a nation that believes in the Second Amendment, and I believe in the Second Amendment. We've got a long tradition of hunting and sportsmen and people who want to make sure they can protect themselves.
If you watch video of the debate, you’ll see that last part was almost an afterthought. Still, Obama deserves credit for finally acknowledging that the Second Amendment is not all about outdoor recreation. (The 2012 Democratic platform, by contrast, affirms "Americans' Second Amendment right to own and use firearms" without specifying what they might be used for.) But Obama loses points for once again conflating "assault weapons," an arbitrarily disfavored category of military-style but semiautomatic firearms, with machine guns:
Weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets….Part of [my strategy to reduce gun violence] is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced….seeing if we can get automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
As Mitt Romney noted, automatic weapons (i.e., machine guns) are already effectively banned for civilian use. Is this persistent confusion by Obama an honest error, or is it part of a deliberate gun control strategy that aims to mislead the public about the firearms covered by “assault weapon” bans? Until now I have been inclined toward the latter explanation, but Obama's belated, halfhearted acknowledgment of armed self-defense as a constitutional right suggests he just doesn't know much about this issue and does not care enough to educate himself.