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Beware the Rahm

Monday, December 22, 2008

Barack Obama’s children may be getting a new puppy, but American gun owners will soon be the targets of an attack dog named Rahm Emanuel.

On Jan. 20, this fierce enemy of the Second Amendment will become the chief of staff to the president of the United States.

The White House chief of staff is known as the “second most powerful man in Washington” and even the “co-president.” He decides who gets to meet with the president, supervises the entire White House staff, advises the commander-in-chief on policy and negotiates with Congress, interest groups and the rest of the executive branch. If the president is not a hands-on manager—and Barack Obama has little executive experience other than in heading his own presidential campaign—the chief of staff can be like a de facto prime minister.

Regardless of exactly how the Obama White House is organized, Emanuel will be one of the most powerful men in the world. Nobody disputes that Emanuel is extremely intelligent, ruthlessly partisan and brilliantly shrewd in his pursuit of power. Unfortunately, that power has often been used to the detriment of the Constitution. When Bill Clinton wanted to target the Second Amendment, he made Emanuel his gun czar.

Time magazine noted Emanuel’s reputation as a “profane, hyperactive attack dog.” His tactics and style are fully consistent with the world of Chicago machine politics, from which both Obama and he sprung.

Emanuel served as a top fundraiser for President Clinton, helping to raise a then-record $72 million for Clinton. Rolling Stone magazine reported that at a dinner celebrating Clinton’s election win, Emanuel began reeling off the names of his enemies. As he said each name, he stabbed a steak knife into the table. “Dead! Dead! Dead!” he screamed as he said each enemy’s name.

“When he was done, the table looked like a lunar landscape,” one of the other diners remembered. “It was like something out of The Godfather. But that’s Rahm for you.”

Emanuel’s first big foray into politics was serving as the major fundraiser for the 1980 campaign of congressional candidate David Robinson of Illinois, who was challenging incumbent Republican Paul Findley. Both candidates were A-rated by NRA.

Strangely, Handgun Control, Inc. (today, the Brady Campaign) entered the race by running anti-Findley TV commercials with actors purporting to be from Findley’s district, even though they were not. The commercials could have taught Emanuel a lesson about the veracity of the gun-ban lobby but, as we shall see, the lesson went unlearned.

In Chicago, Emanuel became a close friend of David Axelrod, the machine politics master who would become the chief strategist for the Obama presidential campaign.

Under Clinton, Emanuel was appointed assistant to the president for political affairs, and was later promoted to senior advisor to the president for policy and strategy. He was the White House point man for the offensive against the Second Amendment.

In 1998, Clinton forbade the import of 58 types of firearms and their accessories. At the time, one of Emanuel’s aides proudly announced, “We’re bending the law as far as we can to ban an entirely new class of guns.”

Emanuel defended the ban on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, repeatedly claiming that the banned guns were “military weapons, not sporting weapons.”

“Those weapons were designed for one purpose—military—and they don’t belong on our streets,” he insisted.

Emanuel asserted that Clinton had banned “the AK-47,” which was pure nonsense. The AK-47, which is a fully automatic rifle, was not covered by the import ban. Indeed, not one of the guns banned was an automatic, nor were any of the guns manufactured primarily for military use.

All the banned guns were used in target competitions. Some had names like “Hunter” or “Sporter.” So how did Clinton and Emanuel get around the 1986 federal law requiring that imports must be allowed if the gun is “particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes”?

Emanuel argued that it was permissible to ban the guns because comments from hunting guides showed that the guns were rarely recommended for hunting trips. As if the only gun that is a “sporting” gun is one used by people who can afford to take trips with a professional guide.

Emanuel further contended that the guns should be banned because they “accept rounds in the 20, 30, 40, in some cases 100 rounds at a case [sic].” Of course, every gun that accepts a detachable magazine can accept a detachable magazine of any size. So Emanuel’s theory would actually set the stage for a ban on every gun that uses a detachable magazine.

Emanuel was also the lead man in Clinton’s successful effort to require that trigger locks be sold with handguns—even if the buyer already owned a gun safe.

In February 1998, the “waiting period” of the Brady Act expired. When passing the Brady Act in 1993, Congress had set the expiration date, by which time the National Instant Check System (NICS) would be functioning, so there would be no need to delay gun purchases in order to conduct background checks.

Yet in 1998, Clinton announced that one of his “top priorities” would be a permanent waiting period on handgun sales. Emanuel declared that the waiting period “is very, very important.”

Promoting the Clinton plan on Meet the Press on June 14, 1998, Emanuel maintained that “the five-day waiting period was established for a cooling-off period for crimes of passion.”

However, that was completely untrue. Congress had rejected the notion of a “cooling-off period.” The waiting period was intended to operate only until the NICS was in place. Even Clinton’s Assistant Attorney General Eleanor Acheson had admitted to Congress, in testimony on Sept. 30, 1993, that there were no statistics to indicate that handguns were frequently used in crimes within a few days of purchase.

Yet Emanuel asserted: “Based on police research, 20 percent of the guns purchased that are used in murder are purchased within the week of the murder.”

The NRA called Emanuel’s office to find out exactly where that “factoid” had come from. Turns out, it was not “police research” at all. The phony statistic had come from what Emanuel’s office called “briefing materials provided by Handgun Control, Inc.”

The NRA called HCI to track down the source of the factoid. But despite repeated requests, HCI never supplied any source.

In October 1998, Emanuel resigned from the White House. Yet in 2000, Clinton appointed Emanuel to the Board of Directors for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“Freddie Mac”). He earned an annual salary of $231,655. We now know that during that time, Freddie Mac was sowing the seeds of the current financial crisis, encouraging banks to make home loans to buyers who could not repay them. Yet Freddie Mac was able to protect itself from reform by using shady accounting to cover up its problems. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Freddie Mac duped investors by making false reports of billions of dollars of profits from 2000 to 2002, while Emanuel was a director.

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) later determined that the Freddie Mac board on which Emanuel served “failed in its duty to follow up on matters brought to its attention.”

After resigning from the Freddie Mac board, Emanuel ran for a U.S. House of Representatives seat from Chicago and was elected in 2002.

In the House, Emanuel quickly earned a perfect “F” rating from the NRA Political Victory Fund (PVF). He repeatedly voted against the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Firearms Act, which protected gun stores and manufacturers from abusive lawsuits by politicians such as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

He announced his support for outlawing the sale of ordinary handguns and allowing only the sale of so-called “smart guns”—even though “smart gun” technology is as yet far too unreliable for a gun that is needed for self-defense.

Emanuel cosponsored H.R. 1312, a bill to impose a permanent ban on so-called “assault weapons.” The bill was even worse than the ban that had been enacted by Congress in 1994, and which expired in 2004. The new ban would have allowed administrative action, without congressional approval, to outlaw the domestic sale or manufacture of even more guns.

Emanuel’s prodigious talents and ferocity were quickly recognized by other House Democrats. By his third term in the House, he had risen to the fourth-highest position among the Democratic leadership, as chair of the Democratic Caucus. He also snared the position of head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for the 2006 House elections.

There, he acted pragmatically. In districts where the pro-Second Amendment vote was strongest, Emanuel often recruited pro-Second Amendment Democratic candidates. Although the House Democratic leadership, including Nancy Pelosi and Emanuel himself, was passionately anti-gun, the DCCC did not impose an anti-gun litmus test since electing the largest possible number of Democrats was their singular goal.

“They’ve got to reflect their districts,” Emanuel acknowledged. His strategy worked, and pro-gun Democrats provided the margin for the Democratic takeover of the House in the 2006 elections.

So what will Chief of Staff Emanuel do in the White House?

Well, we can be sure that his 2006 approach to gun issues did not spring from a newfound affection for the Second Amendment. It was simply a recognition of the political strength of the National Rifle Association, particularly leading up to congressional elections.

Consequently, the stronger the NRA remains, the greater the chance of deterring Emanuel from encouraging a major anti-gun push in Congress.

Political calculations can change, especially if there is a terrorist attack or other infamous crime. As Emanuel told The New York Times in early November, “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste; it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.”

Pro-rights forces need to be ready now, and not wait to mobilize until it is too late.

Meanwhile, as Emanuel well knows, the president has great authority to act unilaterally to restrict civil rights—particularly if the president is willing to “bend” the law.

Will Rahm Emanuel be able to stab a knife into the Constitution and scream that the Second Amendment is “Dead! Dead! Dead!”?

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