Sen. Barack Obama's campaign just won't let the gun issue rest. Mr. Obama and his campaign surrogates continue to assure gun owners that he is on their side, and it appears to be paying off. John McCain only leads Mr. Obama among hunters by 14 percentage points, just about half the 27-point lead that President Bush held over John Kerry in 2004. If Mr. McCain had a similar lead, he would be ahead in most polls, particularly in many battle ground states.
Yet, despite all the Democratic claims to the contrary, Mr. Obama is undoubtedly the most anti-gun candidate ever nominated by a major party for president.
A couple of weeks ago, Brian Schweitzer, Montana Democratic governor, told national reporters that Mr. Obama "Ain't ever going to take your gun away." An Obama adviser, Stanford Law Professor Larry Lessig, said recently on Hugh Hewitt's national radio show that "I think that he has always been an individual rights person on the Second Amendment." Another advisor, Professor Cass Sunstein at Harvard, told Time Magazine in June: "Obama has always expressed a belief that the Second Amendment guarantees a private right to bear arms." The list goes on.
The day the Supreme Court struck down Washington, D.C.'s gun ban, Mr. Obama claimed the court's decision merely ratified his own position. He told Fox News he had "said consistently that I believe that the Second Amendment is an individual right, and that was the essential decision that the Supreme Court came down on." So, has Mr. Obama consistently supported individuals' rights to own guns and opposed the D.C. handgun ban? Last November, Mr. Obama's campaign told the Chicago Tribune that "Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional." After the Illinois senator's statement supporting the Supreme Court striking down the ban, the campaign quickly disowned the Chicago Tribune quote as a staffer's "inartful attempt" to characterize his position.
Yet, Mr. Obama personally voiced support for the D.C. ban at other times. In February, he did this himself, not something that he could blame on a staffer.
ABC New's local Washington, D.C. anchor, Leon Harris, asked Mr. Obama: "One other issue that's of great importance here in the district as well is gun control ... but you support the D.C. handgun ban." Mr. Obama's simple response: "Right." When Mr. Harris said "And you've said that it's constitutional," Mr. Obama again says "right" and is clearly seen on tape nodding his head "yes."
But this is not new. Mr. Obama has a long history of supporting city gun bans. The Associated Press described his 2004 vote on a gun control bill: "He also opposed letting people use a self-defense argument if charged with violating local handgun bans by using weapons in their homes. The bill was a reaction to a Chicago-area man who, after shooting an intruder, was charged with a handgun violation."
A candidate questionnaire shows that Mr. Obama supported a ban on handguns in 1996. In 1998, he backed a ban on the sale of all semiautomatic guns (a ban that would encompass the vast majority of guns sold in the U.S.) In 2004, he advocated banning gun sales within five miles of a school or park (essentially a ban on all guns sold in almost all the states). Possibly, even more importantly, he served on the board of the Joyce Foundation, probably the largest private funder of anti-gun and pro-ban groups and research in the country.
The Obama campaign "flatly denied" the 1996 statement supporting a ban on handguns, blaming it instead on a staffer from his state senate race who they said had incorrectly filled out the candidate questionnaire. But the Politico obtained a copy of the statement and found Mr. Obama's own handwritten notes on it indicating that he had personally checked and corrected answers.
His newfound support for gun ownership raises serious questions; not only where he stands on the gun issue, but also how trustworthy he is. With new legal cases being filed against Chicago's gun ban over the last couple of weeks, will some reporter finally ask Mr. Obama why he has not only never spoken out against Chicago's ban, he actively supported it? The release of the new Democratic National Platform's discussion of "what [gun control] works in Chicago" implies Mr. Obama still supports Chicago's gun ban. The platform also wants to take away so-called "assault weapons." Also unclear is what his position means for who he would nominate to the Supreme Court. Mr. Obama's recent comments to Rick Warren, pastor of the evangelical Saddleback Church, showed he opposed nominating those members of the Supreme Court who voted that the Second Amendment is an individual right.
Mr. Obama doesn't even admit that he has changed his position on guns. In a July interview on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," the senator admitted that there has been a "shift in emphasis" on various issues, but on guns he held firm: "There wasn't a shift there." Mr. Obama's campaign can ill afford the opposition that gun owners showed toward John Kerry. Yet, when did Mr. Kerry ever support a ban on handguns or all semi-automatic guns?
John Lott is a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland.