Barack and Load
By Robert VerBruggen
Published 4/8/2008 12:08:52 AM
Much has been made of Barack Obama's audacious embrace of Second Amendment rights for rural Pennsylvanians. Since entering the national scene, the Illinois senator has kept mum about his undeniably anti-gun voting record. Now he's actively courting firearm-rights supporters.
According to the Politico Obama is "highlighting his background in constitutional law," "downplaying his voting record," and assembling a set of pro-gun Democrats' endorsements. He's even sent an e-mail to a sportsmen's group asking for their support.
There are several overlapping phenomena at work here, none of which should encourage -- or really surprise -- supporters of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
One, he's not courting pro-gun voters per se but pro-gun Democratic primary voters, a demographic that will likely recede to insignificance before the general election. Two, even if these voters aren't convinced just yet, this outreach can garner endorsements from figures the demographic does trust. Three, Obama's efforts are a change in tone, not direction, from his life of anti-gun advocacy. This is politics as usual.
The briefest glance at the road ahead reveals why Obama and Clinton have become gun-totin', NAFTA-hatin' small-town folks of late. The two are (red)neck-and-neck in the delegate count. While the superdelegates could turn down the voters' pick, the two remain locked in a fierce competition for every last ballot.
The states that haven't voted yet? Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, and South Dakota. Plus Guam and Puerto Rico, for what they're worth.
It's not hard to see why a battle rages for the working-class white vote, and how a little gun love could pay off in the months ahead. Come November, though, Obama will need to focus on independents and disgruntled Republicans, which will require dropping the gun issue or at least presenting it through a whole new prism of deception.
After all, it's easier to run to Hillary's right than John McCain's -- on guns, at least.
IN THE SHORT TERM, will pro-gun Democrats fall for the ruse? Quite possibly. In a race with virtually no political differences between the candidates, voters have to use whatever criteria they can drum up.
Mild gestures toward a voter's values can serve as a place to hang one's hat, as can endorsements from trusted figures. Obama already has the support of Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr. and state representative Dan Surra -- pro-gun Democrats both.
And mild gestures these are. A serious effort to court the general pro-gun vote would require some outright flip-flops from Obama -- who, in the Politico's summary, "long backed gun-control measures, including a ban on semiautomatic weapons and concealed weapons, and a limit on handgun purchases to one a month. He has declined to take a stance on the legality of the handgun prohibition in Washington, D.C., which the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing..."
Obama can refuse to "take a stance" on the DC ban all he wants, but he had to choose sides regarding Illinois senate bill 2165, which related to similar laws in his home state. The legislation came about in response to the case of Hale DeMar, who shot a home invader, only to find himself with a $750 fine from the Village of Wilmette for owning a handgun.
The bill allowed self-defense as a legal defense against local firearms charges. Obama voted against it. In 1996 he (or maybe "a campaign aide") also indicated on an interest-group survey that he supports handgun bans. Obama has yet to change his mind about any of this publicly, or even in e-mails to sportsmen's groups.
The bottom line is that if Obama manages to dupe anyone, he'll simply take votes from another anti-gun candidate in a primary between two anti-gun candidates. Only as November approaches are non-Democrat Second Amendment supporters likely pay any attention, because only the Republican candidate has made any serious effort to earn their votes.
Unsolicited advice for Second Amendment supporting Democrats in states that have yet to hold primaries: Don't let him fool you. Flip a coin.