Guns

The President Is Not a Gun Slinger

Why the 2nd Amendment is safe under President Obama-for now

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Politically savvy gun owners have long distrusted President Barack Obama, and for perfectly fair reasons—even (or perhaps especially) after he went out of his way to tell them that lawful gun owners have nothing to fear from his administration.

Perhaps, Obama seemed to be gently suggesting, they could cool it with the spike in gun purchases since he won the election. December showed a 24 percent rise in FBI instant background checks for gun purchases from the previous December, and there was a 49 percent such hike the week of his election.

Obama's famous gaffe about "bitter" people who "cling" to guns merely brought this existing tension to wide public attention. Despite his insistence that he respects the doctrine settled by the Supreme Court in June's Heller decision—that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms—Obama has a far narrower vision of what that means than, say, your average National Rifle Association (NRA) member.

During his political career, Obama has supported Chicago's handgun ban (as well as D.C.'s ban, overturned in Heller, a decision he later claimed to agree with) and voted for, or expressed public support for, such gun restrictions as banning concealed public carrying of weapons and barring gun sales within five miles of schools or parks.

Furthermore, a statement on Obama's gun intentions that had disappeared from his campaign site has now reappeared on the White House website. These details in particular raised hackles in the gun rights community:

Obama and Biden would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade…. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.

And his attorney general designate Eric Holder is a straight-up foe of gun rights. He was a principal in the Clinton administration's perceived attacks on gun owners' rights; he's for registration and licensing, mandatory waiting periods, and gun purchase limits. Holder also signed on to an amicus brief on D.C.'s side in Heller, and clearly does not agree with the case's Second Amendment-affirming decision. He's been a magnet of discontent for the gun rights community, though in a contentious move, the NRA has chosen not to openly testify against him or count votes for him against congressmen or senators in their NRA scorecards.

Moreover, as certain alarmed folks in the gun rights community will note, there's plenty that Holder will be able to do as the head of the Department of Justice, including the harassment of gun dealers by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. There are also fears that Obama may issue executive orders restricting the importation of certain kinds of weapons or ammunition.

I don't doubt that Obama and Holder have little respect for gun rights. Obama's pandering during the campaign was almost certainly insincere. But what is politically important is not whether he meant it; it's that he thought he had to do it in the first place. He even had to run ads in such potential swing states as Ohio and Pennsylvania aimed at countering NRA ads that tagged him as an enemy of gun owners.

That indicates what Obama—and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel—has at the front of his mind: the Democratic Party's institutional memory of its own personal gun-related tragedies of 1994 and 2000 (and maybe even 2004). Gun control fever was running high in the early 1990s, with the Brady Bill and the original "assault weapon" ban passing in '93 and '94.

Then came the Republican takeover of both houses of Congress in 1994, blamed by no less savvy a politico than then-President Bill Clinton on the Democrats' rousing of the gun rights movement. Al Gore's 2000 losses in such states as Tennessee and West Virginia, and thus the White House, are also widely attributed to the wrath of the NRA and its allies.

Irwin Nowick, a hyper-detailed watcher and chronicler of gun issues on the California and national level, had a cogent argument for why even some of the things Obama explicitly says he wants on the gun control front are apt to go nowhere:

Federally, Obama and….Emanuel [do] not want to cause problems for Labor or "swing voters" which include persons who own guns. Emanuel remembers Clinton and he understands how tenuous Democratic control of the House in fact is…. In addition, what people do not understand is that the type of Democrats who controlled the House during the first two years of the Clinton regime is not there any more. They were wiped out in 1994 and by the movement of House seats from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West. Those seats that did exist in the Rust Belt were sliced and diced in redistricting in 2001. Indeed, in this cycle—as in 2006—you had the growth of NRA Democrats.

…People can forget about a new "assault weapon" ban—that one is not getting any traction—Labor is opposed and Rahm Emanuel is not putting his boss or a Democratic majority at risk…. The 1994 crime bill which included "the ban" passed because Republicans voted for it. Many of those Republicans are gone and because of the movement of seats because of the 2000 census and resulting redistricting, many of the Democratic seats where the members voted for it are gone as well.

So far, there is no sign of incipient serious gun action on the Hill, or out of the White House. Two new bills that have generated much gun community chatter are sitting mostly sponsorless for now in the Judiciary Committee. Second Amendment enthusiasts are excited about Florida Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns's National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2009 (H.R. 197) (co-sponsored by Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher), which would create cross-state reciprocity for states that issue concealed carry permits, allowing a gun owner who has one in his home state to essentially use it in other states. (Stearns has authored essentially similar bills in the past, which got nowhere.)

And they are alarmed by Illinois Democrat Rep. Bobby Rush's bill, a "Firearms Licensing and Record of Sale Act," which would pretty much do what the title implies. It too is currently sitting in committee, with zero co-sponsors. Radical pro- or anti-gun action is just not much on Congress' mind right now.

Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation is still quite wary of Obama and nervous about what the next four years will mean for gun rights, though he granted in an interview this week that "we don't see any legislation on the immediate horizon whatsoever; the few bills introduced, I don't believe will go anywhere. [Rush's bill] is asking too much; it's never gonna happen."

Still, Gottlieb is concerned about how a Holder-run DOJ might behave in any future lawsuit intended to extend gun rights in which the federal government is a party. He's also worried about how Holder's BATFE could use existing laws to stymie gun and ammunition dealers. And he fears that any effective new gun control will come without warning from Congress. "Something bad could appear and head to hearings quickly and not be telegraphed months in advance," seriously harming the gun rights community's ability to man up and stop it.

But as far as actual action to restrict gun rights on the federal level, not much is imminent or moving. Congress and the new president are very, very busy spending the U.S. further into hyperinflation or bankruptcy and figuring out exit strategies (or not) from Bush-era foreign policy entanglements. While Justice Department's focus on enforcing existing gun laws may well increase, we're unlikely to see any significant new federal efforts that infringe on the Heller-certified constitutional right to own common weapons for self-defense in the home.

The gun rights community, in other words, is most likely wrong about the extent to which the Obama administration will try to restrict gun rights. (Not that, even in a post-Heller age, they don't have reason to be worried; short of D.C.-style total gun bans, lower courts so far seem sure that any other gun regulations go under the ruling.) The political irony is that being mistaken about the magnitude of the threat can guarantee they achieve their goals—being wrong, especially convincing the gun rights rank and file to grossly overestimate the Obama threat, will help ensure that the threat never becomes real—even if it never would have.

In the face of an administration that undoubtedly only respects gun rights to the extent that its supporters have the political power to harm it, gun rights forces do need to keep their powder dry; perhaps even excessively stocked. Paranoids may not always have real and effective enemies, but in politics, as in life, paranoia can keep you safe.

Senior Editor Brian Doherty is author of Radicals for Capitalism (PublicAffairs) and Gun Control on Trial (Cato Institute).

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  1. No, no! He’s going to take your guns and implement the Fairness Doctrine!

    You must put all of your attention and resources into stopping those imminent threats! No right-thinking American can be distracted by any other issues!

    !!!

    !

    Eleven!1!

    And also too, this is not a Fusag.

  2. I am becoming increasingly disturbed by the scarcity of ammunition. Guns aren’t much good without it, except as a mantlepiece.

  3. Good article. The one aspect I hadn’t thought about is the potential for extra-legislative hassling of gun dealers, letting BATFE go rampant, etc. Combined with the sort of prosecutors Balko writes about, it could get ugly.

  4. sage – do you reload?

  5. I am becoming increasingly disturbed by the scarcity of ammunition. Guns aren’t much good without it, except as a mantlepiece.

    You know, that was one of my major reasons for being against the war. I should have bought 5 or 10 cases of .223 in 2002.

  6. I should have bought 5 or 10 cases of .223 in 2002.

    Even the Russian-made 7.62×39 is more expensive. But not that much.

  7. Nah, BP. I shoot 7.62 mainly and 357 or 38 special. None of those are really worth it. I do know people that have the gear. Problem is, the Wolf stuff is berdan primed and not reloadable. But at $5.25 a box it’s cheaper just to buy it…if you can find it.

  8. The 2nd amendment explicitly mentions the right to bare arms (not only guns).
    Have any of you zealots ever thought of getting yourself a some stinger missiles or a tank.

  9. Yes. Problem is they are a little harder to come by than even ammunition is right now.

  10. joe,

    Do you think that Obama is unlikely to support such measures, or that their implementation wouldn’t much reason to worry?

    If the former, I probably won’t find much reason to argue with you, if the latter…

  11. Even if Obama’s administration opts to refrain from instituting further restrictions on gun ownership that’s quite a cold comfort when in fact any rational thinking person can plainly see there are an inordinate number of firearms regulations that as ineffective as they are byzantine.

    Such laws should be revamped, modified, or repealed wholesale.

  12. The 2nd amendment explicitly mentions the right to bare arms (not only guns).
    Have any of you zealots ever thought of getting yourself a some stinger missiles or a tank.

    my parking garage only has compact spaces, but otherwise…

  13. sage – Here you go.

    The ammo for it would be a problem, though.

  14. 5.45mm is still a bargain, though. If you’re super-cool, you can find Russian army surplus that supposedly has the “poison bullet” with the steel penetrator and the air pocket. And if you were smart like me, you’d have gotten an SAR-2 back when you could still get them, not those mickey-mouse WASR piece of shit rifles that are around today.

    Damn, I’m smart. S-M-R-T.

  15. For real, has the war caused a shortage of bullets on the retail market?

  16. Nice, BP. I could just see that thing painted black, rolling through the front wall of the wrong house at dawn, maybe over a dog or two…

  17. Warty, my friend has an AK-47 that was owned by a SEAL who got it from an Egyptian commando. Peep sight. SO MUCH FUN to shoot. Makes my SKS look like a bore.

  18. For real, has the war caused a shortage of bullets on the retail market?

    Yes, and substantially increased prices. Ammo factories are churning ammo out at max capacity.

  19. Joe, ammo was not really in short supply (that I noticed) until the nominations for president were sewn up. And I’m being anti-Obama, I’m serious.

    The only thing the war did (again, my observation) was cause the price to go up.

  20. D’oh! I’m “not” being anti-Obama, that is.

  21. The 2nd amendment explicitly mentions the right to bare arms

    And anyway, I think that’s actually the first amendment, as long as “community standards” don’t imply that you live in Utah, or Afghanistan.

  22. I believe you, sage. A lot of people believed some really paranoid sh*t about Obama. Did you hear about the birth certificate thing?

    Out of curiosity, where are you, geographically?

  23. I’m in the Puget Sound region.

    I just hope people come to their senses. It’s depressing to see empty shelves at the Sportsman’s Warehouse. Makes me think something’s going to hit the fan.

  24. Crap. I’d meant to link to this page, which has a few other tanks, SP arty, and APC’s.

    Only $220k for an M36 tank destroyer!

  25. Joe, ammo was not really in short supply (that I noticed) until the nominations for president were sewn up

    Actually, what started to disappear first because of the war were the more esoteric calibers. I noticed because I have a pistol in .32 S&W Long. The manufacturers will stop making the light sellers first.

  26. Epi, my dad went on an AK kick when he though Al Gore was going to be our overlord. Between the two of us, we have 10 or so eeeevil rifles of various type, and I can say that AKs are the most fun of all. The giant bolt carrier slamming back and forth makes it feel like somebody is hitting something with a hammer right next to your face.

    joe, back in 2001, you could get 1000 rounds of 5.56mm NATO surplus ball for ~$130 per thousand. Now you can’t find any surplus, and the steel cased Russian stuff is around $300 per thousand. High quality stuff is $500/K or more. 7.62x39mm has gone from $80/K to $150/K. Oh, how I miss the good old days.

  27. I’ve got an old WWII-vintage Lee Enfield .303 and ammo for that thing even is expensive these days, when you can find it. I hear lots of Afghans still have those rifles, ironically.

  28. Yeah, I have the same problem, HAL. It’s a shame, because Enfields are such a joy to shoot. I should have picked up an M1917 Enfiled in .30-06 last time I was at the Camp Perry store.

    For real fun, try to find 7.5 Swiss or 7.5 French ammo.

  29. For real fun, try to find 7.5 Swiss or 7.5 French ammo.

    Do you have a MAS?

  30. Thanks for the answers, guys.

    Warty,

    Did the prices creep up steadily between 2000 and now, or did they spike at some point? Did you notice?

  31. I got your 7.5 Swiss right here.

    French? Give me a minute.

  32. More Swiss 7.5.

    The French rifle might be better suited to your mantle.

  33. sage – here.

  34. I mean try to find it and not pay out the nose. My dad has a MAS-36 and a Schmidt-Rubin, both of which are way too expensive to shoot. I think they’re more of a conversation piece than anything. Even more so than the Steyr-Mannlichers.

    I don’t know the answer for sure, joe. All the calibers have been creeping up as metal prices went up, but it seemed to me that the NATO calibers crept up faster than the rest after the war started.

    Of course, ammo prices were probably artificially low in the 90s due to the Eastern Bloc countries liquidating their stocks. Shit was cheap back in the day. So it’s hard to say what prices would be absent the war.

  35. Have any of you zealots ever thought of getting yourself a some stinger missiles or a tank.

    Yes.

  36. Between the two of us, we have 10 or so eeeevil rifles of various type, and I can say that AKs are the most fun of all.

    Warty, how many people have your guns killed?

  37. One too few.

    *stares*

  38. would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information

    How can someone justify this lie? The wording specifically allows for trace information in the case of a criminal investigation. What Bloomberg wants is a fishing expedition to bring civil harassment against people who can’t afford to protect themselves. So, you have an outright lie, presented as truth, yet we have nothing to fear. It’s this kind of disingenuous comment that just increases mistrust of The Anointed One. I’ll say it again, Tiahart specifically does allow for trace data to be used in a criminal investigation. To say it infringes upon police is a lie, a bald faced outright lie. By design, it infringes upon people who want to pursue a political agenda of harassment, but it in no way restricts criminal investigation.

    Actually, what started to disappear first because of the war were the more esoteric calibers. I noticed because I have a pistol in .32 S&W Long. The manufacturers will stop making the light sellers first.

    But at the same time, 9mm and 5.56 started climbing at an alarming rate. It’s slowed down lately, but not near back to 2001 rates as you say.

    Reloading occasionally catches my eye, but I honestly don’t have the time. I’ve been shooting shotgun mainly lately anyway ::shrug:: so I guess I’ve been remiss in pricing stuff. I have a few thousand rounds sitting about from when I was doing a lot of teaching that I still have to burn through, just haven’t made time lately.

  39. the 2nd Amendment appears safe…for now

    We should thank our 50 states. 50 artificial borders within whose confines the residents think regionally…often stupidly…but with enough local pride and independence to serve as a bulwark against egregious federal schemes. It’s the genius and saving grace of our Constitution.

  40. ed
    I’m not sure I follow you. I imagine lots of states are more favorable to gun control than the federal legislature is right now.

  41. The war caused ammo prices to start slipping north awhile back.

    More recently, there were spikes in the cost of raw materials that go into ammunition- brass and lead, which caused prices to spike considerably about three times in the last year and a half or so.

    Raw materials prices have relaxed somewhat, but ammo prices have remained somewhat high due to increased demand and the result of the election.

    The run on firearms as a result of Obama’s win has been an absolutely astounding thing to witness. I’ve not seen anything like it since I was in high school and the original ban on so-called “assault weapons” was being kicked around in congress.

  42. One of these days I’ll learn to stop repeating the same word more than once in my posts…

  43. I’m sorry, was this article supposed to be sarcastic in tone?

  44. Nah, BP. I shoot 7.62 mainly and 357 or 38 special. None of those are really worth it.

    I’m not a reloader(yet) but .357 mag is an excellent round to reload. There isn’t much choice of factory ammo in the “full house loads” category..38 sp full wadcutters are getting quite expensive too.

  45. Gee, so Poodle Shooter ammo is getting scarce. Glad I don’t have one. I haven’t noticed any shortage of the stuff that I shoot.

    I also save my empties, store them deprimed and lightly oiled. I have enough components to make a few hundred rounds for each of my social weapons. And I only pay cash for anything related to firearms that the government doesn’t already know that I own.

  46. http://www.gun-deals.com is a great place to find prices on ammo. I purchased 1000 rounds of XM-193 equivalent .223 from ammunitiontogo.com last year for a total cost per round of 36 cents. That stuff is very scarce now.

    @BT6: Be sure to wear gloves when you load your magazines. 😉

  47. “@BT6: Be sure to wear gloves when you load your magazines. ;)”

    Who doesn’t?

    My primary social pistol has a set of stocks made to fit my hand when I’m wearing my shooting gloves.

  48. I can’t completely agree with Brian Doherty — I wouldn’t say that our Second Amendment rights are “safe” under Obama. Doherty mentions Obama’s choice of Eric Holder for Attorney General. The Attorney General can do plenty of damage to your gun rights without the help of Congress.

    Yet the trend seems to be moving firmly in both directions. Hillary’s Senate seat has been filled by the NRA A-rated, pro-choice, pro-gay rights Kirsten Gillibrand. Her mix of opinions, while jarring in the mainstream, sounds familiar to Reason readers. Could Senator Gillibrand be part of a new trend? Or will her position on guns “evolve?”

    At The Firearms Coalition, we’ve taken a similar position to Doherty’s. Get ready and wait. The Democrats have truly painful memories related to gun rights going back to the 1994 election. It’s possible they’ve learned. If the Republicans are counting on another mass political suicide among the Democrats, they just might have a long wait.

  49. BP: “The ammo for it would be a problem, though.”

    Nah, just rig up the gun to fire potatoes, powered by compressed air.

  50. Hillary’s Senate seat has been filled by the NRA A-rated, pro-choice, pro-gay rights Kirsten Gillibrand. Her mix of opinions, while jarring in the mainstream, sounds familiar to Reason readers. Could Senator Gillibrand be part of a new trend? Or will her position on guns “evolve?”

    She’s also pro-spending and pro-regulation too, before anyone starts thinking of her as a real libertarian. But certainly her presence is welcomed compared to alternatives.

  51. Barry is weak and not very bright it’s clear he can be manipulated by his advisors and demos in congress.
    it is not what he thinks it is about what the people pulling his strings think.

  52. “Barry is weak and not very bright it’s clear he can be manipulated by his advisors and demos in congress.”

    He reminds me of Jim Hacker from Yes Prime Minister.

  53. You know, one of those not very bright, Harvard BA, Harvard Law Magna cum Laude, University of Chicago law professor types.

  54. Joe:

    Yes affirmative action does push all sorts of unqualified cretins doesn’t it. By the way did president 666 ever practice law for any firm that wasn’t a Soros front?

    You know like for NcDonald’s, GE, Sullivan Cromwell, not just the World’s Worker Federation?

  55. Obama could declare himself the People’s Emperor and nationalize all industry, ten minutes later, we’d have an article by the “people” at reason explaining that this is not a threat to liberty. If he were to legalize pot, they’d be coming out with another article explaining how Dear Leader was good for libertarianism.

  56. Are you willing to put your absolute certainty that the 2nd Ammendment will be safe in Obama’s arms to the test. For every gun control initiative he undertakes or implements, you sever one finger. Is it a deal?

  57. Was there some sort of contest at the Reason office to determine who could write the article with the most shaky and fallacious logic? You spend 3/4 of the article detailing how anti-gun the douchebag is only to tell us we have nothing to fear? Hell part of your article concerns his explicit statement, on the White House website for christ sake, concering a ban on so-called assault rifles, yet we aren’t going to see a curtailment of our second amendment rights? This is without a doubt the single most ridiculous article I have ever read on this site.

  58. On a totally unrelated topic, didn’t you once claim that renditions were horrible joe?
    I wonder if you have changed your mind now that Obama plans on expanding renditions?

    http://www.latimes.com/news/la-na-rendition1-2009feb01,0,7548176,full.story

  59. Anyone who believes that Obama won’t go after guns is stupid and gullible and probably believes in “Change we cans believe in!!!!!!@!!!!”

    Get your guns and ammo ready to take care of these zombies.

  60. This story might turn out to be all well and true. But I will be picking up a few boxes or extra rounds once a week at lunch and tucking them away just incase things take a different turn here shortly. Besides if you really use your 2nd you can never have to much ammo. Better to have plenty than not enough or none at all. Ammo is much like the gun itself if you need either in a hurry then is not the time to look into procuring said items. Ask my how I know going through Katrina!

    IMO no matter what Obama or any other politicans says or passes as law they will never get the guns. The people who legally own them will not turn them in and to think otherwise is foolish. As well as we know the criminals now with them sure as hell won’t be turning their guns in either.

    If the governments war on drugs and the violence it has created has shown anything it is that government can not control shit. They can’t get the drugs nor the crime they created under control in even the smallest of neighborhoods yet I am to believe they will disarm the ENTIRE Country? That is laughable.

    Taking guns from people who will be waiting for you to show up will prove to be more difficult than kicking in someones door at 3am in a raid for a bag of pot. I can easily invision hunters in treestands taking turns to watch and pick off anyone coming on their lands. The government could not stand the loss of life it would encounter in the 1st week of such an attempt. We might have a lot of dumbasses willing to kick in doors for drugs but they will be thinned out quickly if they change to guns.

    Talk is all great but in the end you have to physically remove the guns. No one is going to take that job no matter how much your paying.

  61. B,

    Obama is not expanding renditions, he’s limiting them. He’s eliminating “extraordinary renditions” – renditions to countries that will torture the subjects.

    Plain old renditions, such as those carried out under Poppy Bush and Bill Clinton, include such completely unremarkable actions as extraditions.

    I am absolutely thrilled that Barack Obama is going to end the criminal practice of extraordinary rendition. Yet another feather in his anti-torture cap.

  62. For those that voted for “change”, you will get it, a change back to the clinton administration. Along with that, after the spending, bailouts and tax increases, you will be left with only change in your pocket.

    Obama will do everything he and his administration can do about rights restrictions.

    There is one thing he will accidentally do FOR gun owners is by “bringing the troops home”, he will create surplus of ammo, and significantly lower ammo prices.

  63. So is the border between guns deemed appropriate for citizens being tightened by the current administration? What happened to eased gun laws with needed licenses and permits (less gun laws, more permits)? Wouldn’t that be an agreeable program between the NRA and those on the liberal side of politics? The NRA can have their guns, as long as they’ve got permission.

    And plus, the 2nd amendment was made to make sure citizens could keep a “well regulated Militia, for it being necessary to the security of a free State”? So shouldn’t they have the right to have it for use in a militia, and not necessarily the right to carry it around wherever, whenever, with no permit or I.D.?

  64. Oh. Sorry. Says the 2nd is safe under Obama. Didnt read carfully! Still, my other questions stand…

  65. What a great post! Very Informative! Carry on the good work…

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