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Obama: Issue by Issue

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Issue by Issue

In his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Barack Obama tried to spin his words skillfully. As he has before, Obama claimed he would "uphold the Second Amendment." But Obama, who's lived his whole life in cities, states and foreign countries with restrictive gun laws, once again suggested that "the reality of gun ownership may be different" in rural and urban areas--implying that the Second Amendment means something different depending on where you live.

Obama, of course, is a polished speaker who says "words matter." But deeds matter more. Over the past several months, NRA's magazines have reviewed Obama's record at length. And we do mean length because, while Sen. Obama is short on years in office, he's long on anti-gun votes and even longer on rhetoric.

Now it's time to review Obama's words and deeds, step-by-step and issue-by-issue.

supporting handgun bans

Obama's support for banning handguns goes back to his earliest days in politics. During his first run for the Illinois Senate in 1996, Obama said on a candidate questionnaire that he supported legislation to "ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns." When challenged about the questionnaire earlier this year, Obama said his campaign staff had filled out the questionnaire incorrectly. (Unfortunately for that story, a version of the questionnaire later appeared bearing Obama's own handwriting.)

In 1999 the Chicago Defender reported that Obama, by then a state senator, proposed banning so-called "junk" guns--a code word for the affordable handguns that anti-gun activists used to call "Saturday Night Specials" until the racist origins of that term became well known.

In 2003 Obama voted to limit handgun purchases to one per month.

Since coming to Washington in 2005, Obama has continued to make clear that he supports banning handguns. This year, as District of Columbia v. Heller headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, more than 300 members of Congress signed a brief urging the Court to declare that the Second Amendment protects an individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms and to overturn D.C.'s handgun ban. Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, refused to sign the brief.

In keeping with his notion that geography trumps the Constitution, Obama says that local jurisdictions should be able to enact handgun
bans and other restrictive gun laws, regardless of the Second Amendment. ABC News reports that Obama reacted to the Heller case by saying, "The notion that somehow local jurisdictions can't initiate gun safety laws . . . isn't borne out by our Constitution." The "local jurisdictions" he has in mind, of course, are those that ban handguns--such as Chicago and (until the Heller decision) Washington, D.C.

Obama also supports Sen. Edward Kennedy's bill to ban the manufacture of all currently existing semi-automatic handguns on the grounds that they do not have firing pins and breech faces that imprint microscopic serialized characters on fired cartridge cases.

Obama calls Kennedy's proposal a "common sense" bill. Like the Brady Campaign, Obama characterizes any kind of gun ban as "common sense." Unfortunately, that kind of "common sense" would be all too common in an Obama administration.

opposing self-defense

In addition to Chicago, a number of suburban Illinois cities and towns banned the possession of handguns completely in the 1980s (though several of these laws have been repealed since the Heller decision and NRA is challenging the rest in court).

One of these bans, in the town of Wilmette, led to a 2003 case in which a local resident used a handgun to defend himself from a dangerous repeat offender. Though the shooting was found to be justified, the armed citizen was charged with possessing a handgun in violation of
Wilmette's law and faced jail time.

The injustice of prosecuting a person for defending himself in his own home led Illinois lawmakers to propose legislation that would make self-defense an "affirmative defense" against prosecution for handgun possession in towns like Wilmette.

Both in committee and on the floor of the Illinois Senate, Barack Obama was given the opportunity to stand up for a crime victim and for the right to self-defense, or to stand in support of local gun bans. He chose gun bans. Obama voted four times against the measure, which passed over his opposition, and over a veto by Illinois' anti-gun Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a longtime Obama ally.

Barack Obama's support for local gun bans is even more significant now as he tries to convince voters he is no threat to gun rights. And his actions in 2004 should remind gun owners that (to borrow from his party platform) what doesn't work in Chicago, probably won't work in Cheyenne, either.

banning ammunition

Barack Obama claims that if he is elected president, he "will protect the rights of hunters." But in 2005, halfway through his first year in the Senate, Obama voted for a ban on practically all center-fire rifle ammunition used for hunting or any other purpose. The ban was proposed by Sen. Edward Kennedy as an amendment to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that blocked reckless lawsuits against the gun industry.

If the Kennedy amendment had passed, it would have banned the manufacture of most center-fire rifle ammunition as "armor piercing" ammunition. Unlike current law, which classifies bullets as "armor piercing" ammunition based on the metals used in their construction, the Kennedy amendment would have banned ammunition based upon its velocity and energy.

For obvious reasons, the Departments of Justice and Treasury rejected that concept in the 1980s, when it was first proposed. And when President Bill Clinton and then-Rep. Charles Schumer tried to revive it in the 1990s, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms studied the issue and rejected it again.

Fortunately, the Senate acted to "protect the rights of hunters," but without Obama's help. The Kennedy amendment failed by a vote of 64-31, with John McCain among those opposing this sweeping ban.

taxing your guns

The federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition is a rare creature: a federal tax that is fully supported by those who pay it. Long guns and long gun ammunition are taxed at 11 percent; handguns and handgun ammunition are taxed at 10 percent. The tax is a key source of funding for wildlife conservation projects and shooting range construction across the nation.

But in 1999 then-state senator Obama proposed increasing these taxes by 500 percent. It's safe to say that Obama wasn't hoping to build more shooting ranges.

Right now, a rifle that a manufacturer sells for $500 carries a tax of $55. Under Obama's proposal, that amount would rocket to $330. This would turn a tax willingly paid by sportsmen into a tool to punish gun buyers and would have its biggest impact on those who can least afford to pay such an exorbitant tax--at least, until the loss of sales drove gun stores and manufacturers out of business.

banning semi-autos and magazines

Barack Obama says he supports reinstating the Clinton gun and magazine ban as currently called for in S. 2237, introduced in Congress by Sen. Joe Biden, his running mate. Biden also introduced one of the first federal semi-auto bills in 1989 and worked hard to push the Clinton gun and magazine ban through the Senate in 1993.

This position is nothing new for Obama. On a 1998 "political awareness" survey, he stated as a "principle" that he would support "Ban[ning] the sale or transfer of all forms of semi-automatic weapons."

In 2003, while serving on the Illinois State senate's Judiciary Committee, Obama--though he touts his credentials as a legal scholar--voted in favor of a terribly drafted bill that would have banned (as so-called "semi-automatic assault weapons") many firearms that weren't even semi-autos.  

Under SB 1195's definitions, all single-shot and double-barreled shotguns 28 gauge or larger, and many semi-auto shotguns, would have been banned, along with hundreds of models of rifles and handguns. If SB 1195 had passed, any Illinois resident who possessed one of these guns 90 days after it went into effect would have faced felony charges. Fortunately, less radical views prevailed, and the bill died at the end of the legislative session.

On October 21, 2004, during his U.S. Senate campaign, Obama said that the guns covered by the Clinton ban "have only one purpose, to kill people," adding,  "I think it is a scandal that [President Bush] did not authorize a renewal" of the ban.

In April 22, 2007, Radio Iowa News reported that Obama said, "It's hard for me to find a rationale for having a 17-clip (sic) semiautomatic." And on July 15, 2007, Fox News reported that Obama called for Congress "to permanently reinstate an assault weapons ban."

A new ban surely will be reintroduced in Congress in 2009. Obama would sign a ban into law, as he has made clear throughout his career. With Obama lobbying from the White House, it would be more likely that Congress would pass a ban. Longtime NRA members may recall that in 1991, when President George H.W. Bush was in office, many Democrats voted with Republicans to defeat a gun and magazine ban in the House of Representatives by 70 votes. But in 1994, when President Clinton was in office, many Democrats who voted against the ban in 1991 buckled under pressure from their party's leader and voted for it.

The Brady Campaign says that banning "assault weapons" and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds is one of its top three priorities in 2009. As their records show, it has long been a priority of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

opposing right-to-carry

In the past 20 years, one of the greatest victories for gun owners has been the passage of Right-to-Carry laws in dozens of states. Right now, 40 states have laws that fully respect the right of law-abiding citizens to carry firearms for self-defense. Another eight states have laws that allow some carry permits. Only two states--Wisconsin and Obama's home state of Illinois--completely prohibit permits for honest people.

Barack Obama continues to support this total ban--and wants to expand it. In 2004 Obama stated: "I am consistently on record and will continue to be on record as opposing concealed carry," and said he would back "federal legislation that would ban citizens from carrying weapons, except for law enforcement." Why? A federal carry ban was needed, Obama said, to "prevent other states' flawed concealed-weapons laws from threatening the safety of Illinois residents."

And his position has not changed during this presidential campaign. In April of 2008 Obama repeated his opposition to citizens' self-protection, stating, "I am not in favor of concealed weapons" and argued that Right-to-Carry "creates a potential atmosphere where more innocent people could (get shot during) altercations."

Never mind the evidence, of course, which shows this claim has proven false in state after state where Right-to-Carry has been implemented.

shutting down gun stores

In 1999 then-state Sen. Obama said there should be a federal law to ban any gun store from operating within five miles of any park or school.

This radical idea, like many other gun control schemes, plays on Americans' fears for their children's safety. But its effects would be dramatic. The Obama scheme would create interlocking zones that would completely cover almost every inhabited area in the nation.

Indeed, a number of people have attempted to map out online how this radical idea would play out if enacted. The results of these "Obama Exclusion Zones" are dramatic--but not surprising. Under this law, most major metropolitan areas and their suburbs, and even small towns, would become "gun store-free zones."

Based on an NRA survey of gun stores nationwide, it appears that this radical anti-gun idea would close more than 90 percent of the gun stores in the U.S., leaving guns for sale only in the most remote, sparsely populated areas of our country. Obama's endorsement of this radical and ill-conceived idea is a clear example of his contempt for Second Amendment rights.

abusing the courts

A little over a decade ago, it became clear to anti-gun groups that neither the people nor their elected representatives would support or adopt their radical agenda.

So they turned to the courts.

Led by anti-gun mayors from cities like Obama's hometown of Chicago, and amply funded by the Joyce Foundation , the plan was to use the courts to impose harsh restrictions on gun sellers and buyers. Even if that failed, huge legal fees would force gun manufacturers to settle out of court or face bankruptcy.

In almost every case, the anti-gun lawsuits were dismissed or defeated, but the costs were real. While the cities had the deep pockets of the taxpayers to pay the costs, gun makers had to bear their own legal fees. There was intense pressure on the manufacturers to settle, but they would have had to accept strict new regulations on how firearms were made or sold.

NRA took the lead in blocking these lawsuits at the federal and state level. In 2005, after a seven-year fight, NRA won congressional passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce In Arms Act. This law prohibits politically motivated lawsuits from being used to bankrupt the firearm industry.

Among those voting against the landmark law: Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

funding the anti-gun lobby

Barack Obama was a board member of the anti-gun Joyce Foundation from 1994-2001. The Joyce Foundation is the largest source of funding for radical anti-gun groups, political operatives, researchers and causes in the country.

In Obama's watch, Joyce donated $18.6 million to approximately 80 anti-gun efforts, including $1.5 million to the Violence Policy Center, the nation's most aggressive gun prohibition activist group.

Other groups receiving funds from the Foundation during the Obama years include the handgun ban group CeaseFire, Inc., the Consumer Federation of America (to promote regulations dictating the design of firearms), the Entertainment Industries Council (to promote anti-gun viewpoints among Hollywood writers, producers and actors), the Berkeley (California) Media Studies Group (to provide media training to gun control advocates), the Boston University School of Public Health (to promote the anti-gun JoinTogether website), the Legal Community Against Violence of San Francisco (which drafts anti-gun legislation at the state level), Ohio State University (to support anti-gun professor Saul Cornell's fictitious descriptions of the Second Amendment's history), anti-gun researcher Dr. Garen Wintemute's Violence Prevention Research Program (for a study alleging that gun owners have an increased risk of death), the Northeastern University College of Criminal Justice (toward establishing a firearm lawsuit center) and numerous university public health departments (to conduct anti-gun research).

To put it simply, from a financial standpoint, the Joyce Foundation is the anti-gun movement in this country. And Barack Obama was one of its leaders.

nominating judges

Ultimately, nearly all legal disputes that affect gun owners' rights--whether interpreting the Second Amendment or addressing the fate of anti-gun lawsuits--are fair game for the Supreme Court.

During an August candidate forum, both Barack Obama and John McCain were asked which sitting justices they would not have nominated to the Supreme Court. Obama said he would not have nominated Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. It was Justice Scalia who wrote the majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, which declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and that D.C.'s handgun ban is unconstitutional. Justice Thomas joined Justice Scalia's opinion.

As a member of the Senate, Obama has had the opportunity to vote on just two Supreme Court nominees--Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both of whom joined Justice Scalia's majority opinion in Heller. Obama (and his running mate, Joe Biden) voted against Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. (John McCain, by contrast, voted for every justice in the Heller majority nominated during his time in the Senate.)

The Heller case did not resolve every question about the nature and purpose of the Second Amendment--no single case could. New cases are now moving through the judicial process and some may reach the Supreme Court. The next president--especially if he is elected to a second term--will likely appoint three or more justices to the Court.

With so much in play, the makeup of the Court in the near future is of crucial importance to the long-term future of the Second Amendment. And where judicial appointments are concerned, there is no question that the right to arms will be in jeopardy if Barack Obama wins in November.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.