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.