EDITORIAL: Sunstein flunks gun rights test

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Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein, the president’s embattled nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, misfired one time too many.

Mr. Sunstein has been assuring Second Amendment advocates, including key Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, that he strongly believes the Constitution protects an individual right to bear arms. In a July 14 letter clarifying his positions at the request of the senator, Mr. Sunstein wrote: “Your first question involved the Second Amendment. I strongly believe that the Second Amendment creates an individual right to possess and use guns for purposes of both hunting and self-defense. I agree with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Heller case, clearly recognizing the individual right to have guns for hunting and self-defense. If confirmed, I would respect the Second Amendment and the individual right that it recognizes.”

There’s no wiggle room in that statement, and Mr. Chambliss dropped his hold on the nomination based on Mr. Sunstein’s assurances. But it turns out that the professor has held a certain contempt for the very viewpoint he suddenly claims to espouse.

A videotape has surfaced of a lecture Mr. Sunstein gave at the University of Chicago on Oct. 23, 2007. Here is what he said: “My coming view is that the individual right to bear arms reflects the success of an extremely aggressive and resourceful social movement and has much less to do with good standard legal arguments than [it] appears.” Discussing the anti-gun laws in the District of Columbia, he said a critic of such strict gun control would say that a “trigger lock interferes with his efforts at self-defense against criminals. What on Earth does that have to do with the Second Amendment as originally understood?”

Later in the lecture, Mr. Sunstein said, “My tentative suggestion is that the individual right to have guns as it’s being conceptualized now is best taken as a contemporary creation and a reflection of current fears - not a reading of civic-centered founding debates.”

Mr. Sunstein’s overt hostility to the idea that the Constitution protects an individual right to bear arms, including for purposes of self-defense, is not something that should be welcomed from somebody whose job might entail weighing in on the value of anti-gun regulations. It also makes his more recent assurances that he is a Second Amendment stalwart seem rather disingenuous, at the very least.

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