According to President Obama's gun control recommendations, he "strongly believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms." But what does he think this right entails? "The President believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms," the White House says, "and he respects our nation's rich hunting and sport shooting traditions." The 22-page document mentions hunting and sport shooting five more times, but there are only two mentions of self-defense, both of them in this sentence (which appears twice): "Most gun owners buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for self-defense, hunting or sport shooting." That ratio is a pretty accurate reflection of Obama's rhetorical record on this issue, which features more assurances to hunters and sport shooters than references to self-defense.
Does it matter? I think it does, because someone who thinks the Second Amendment is mainly about shooting deer and targets will have a much broader concept of constitutional gun restrictions than someone who recognizes that it is mainly about defense against various kinds of aggressors. "Nobody needs 10 bullets to kill a deer," says New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, explaining why his state's new seven-round limit on magazines is consistent with the Second Amendment. Cuomo's comments in his State of the State speech last week, like Obama's tendency to ignore self-defense, suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the right to keep and bear arms:
We need a gun policy in this state that is reasonable, that is balanced, that is measured. We respect hunters and sportsmen. This is not taking away people's guns. I own a gun. I own a Remington shotgun. I've hunted. I've shot. That's not what this is about. It is about ending the unnecessary risk of high-capacity assault rifles. That's what this is about.
In the same speech, Cuomo bragged about the Sullivan Act, New York's "first-in-the-nation" ban on unauthorized possession or carrying of concealable weapons, enacted in 1911. To this day, New Yorkers must obtain a permit to buy a handgun, and the state's policy regarding carry permits gives local authorities broad discretion to reject applications. That sort of "may issue" policy does not pose much of a barrier to hunters, but it certainly interferes with self-defense, to the point that a federal appeals court, confronted by a similar law in Illinois, has deemed it unconstititional, citing the right to armed self-defense recognized by the Supreme Court.
It does not help Obama's credibility that he defended the constitutionality of both the Washington, D.C., and Chicago gun bans before they were overturned by the Supreme Court. If he were smart, he would talk more about the right to self-defense and less about hunting and target shooting, the better to smooth the way for the restrictions he wants. Every time he pays lip service to "our nation's rich hunting and sport shooting traditions," its sets off alarm bells among Americans who value the Second Amendment for other reasons.
[I have fixed Cuomo's name.]