As the inauguration of Barack Obama approaches, the men and women he has nominated are starting to face questions in their Senate confirmation hearings. In a number of cases, this includes some high-profile appointees who will have a significant impact on the Obama administration's policies on firearms rights.
Chief among these is Attorney General designate Eric Holder, who has a long history of opposition to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. There are already significant concerns about Holder's nomination. "I have many serious questions about Mr. Holder's nomination," said Senator David Vitter (R-La.). "At the top of the list are his anti-Second Amendment right positions. He's clearly advocated near universal licensing and registration, and he joined and filed an amicus brief in the District of Columbia v. Heller U.S. Supreme Court case arguing that the Second Amendment was not an individual right. That's deeply disturbing."
NRA has also opposed Holder's confirmation, and strongly believes he will actively work to restrict gun owners' rights. (See the letter to Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter from NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox here.)
In Holder's first day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) confronted Holder on his position on gun owner's rights. Coburn asked Holder what his post- Heller position is on the Second Amendment. Holder responded in a very Obama-like manner, saying, "Well, I think that post- Heller, the options that we have in terms of regulating the possession of firearms has (sic) been narrowed. I don't think that it has been eliminated. And I think that reasonable restrictions are still possible." He also revealed his own anti-gun beliefs when he said "I think we operated for a good many years with the assumption that the Second Amendment referred to a collective right."
Indeed, his support for this position was made clear in an amicus brief Holder signed in the Heller case, which incorrectly claimed that the collective right interpretation had been the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice since the Franklin Roosevelt Administration. (Holder's brief did, however, accurately describe the anti-gun position of the Clinton-Reno DOJ in which Holder served.)
In further questioning, Holder was asked about his position on the permissibility of a new gun ban. Holder stated his support for passage of a new semi-auto ban and stated his belief that such a gun ban would not violate Heller.
In later questioning, Sen. Coburn pressed Holder on his position on right-to-carry laws in the states. Senator Coburn attempted to ascertain if Holder, as Attorney General would work to restrict state carry laws. Holder refused to give a yes or no answer, instead resorting to a claim that such an effort is not on the Obama Administration's agenda or part of their planning. Since President-elect Obama has clearly stated his opposition to right-to-carry, Holder's unwillingness to answer Coburn's question directly should cause great concern for gun owners.
Holder's history of antagonism to gun rights includes support for the imposition of a waiting period on handgun sales even after the instant check system became available. He also supported one-gun-a-month handgun rationing, and gun show regulations that would have given the federal government the power to shut down gun shows across the country.
Holder's record is clear: he opposes individual ownership of guns, and said the appeals court decision leading up to the Heller case that struck down the D.C. gun ban "opens the door to more people having more access to guns," as if that fact alone was bad. The question now is: When Holder claims to support the right to bear arms as defined in Heller, is that just empty rhetoric? Or will he pursue the same policies he has always worked for, including the undoing of Heller itself?
Also testifying before the Judiciary Committee was Stephen P. Halbrook, one of the leading Second Amendment attorneys in America. Halbrook has represented NRA and individual gun owners in many critical cases, including the current Second Amendment challenge to D.C.-style gun bans in the Chicago area. Halbrook took Holder to task for his positions. As Halbrook put it in his written testimony:
"Eric Holder has taken a constricted view of Second Amendment rights. Millions of law-abiding Americans exercise the right to keep and bear arms. Mr. Holder's opinion is that the people have no such right unless they are commanded to exercise it in a formal militia, which renders the right meaningless. He has advocated requiring that all firearm owners be registered with the government and that failure to comply be punished as a felony with substantial imprisonment. The restrictions he favors threaten traditional civil liberties.
"Many Americans have reason to be uneasy about Mr. Holder's nomination for Attorney General. They deserve to have a person in this role who is committed to upholding all parts of the Constitution, including the Second Amendment. Unfortunately, Mr. Holder has proven himself not to be that person."
In another important hearing, this one before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) asked Susan Rice, Obama's nominee to be the U.S. representative to the United Nations, about the threats to our gun rights posed by that international body. Rice responded: "Senator, the right to bear arms, as you know very well, is embedded in our constitution the actions and decisions of an international body will never and do never override our own constitution and international law." She continued, "We will not find ourselves in a situation where we allow international prerogatives to ever override our constitution."
This response is encouraging, but we will have to see if the new administration lives up to Ms. Rice's words. Regardless, the new strategy of anti-gun politicians seems clear: say whatever it takes to win, and then do what you really believe later.