Where Has Obama Been on the Unconstitutional DC Handgun Ban?

By Kelly Moeller

Jun 26, 2008 11:53am

I call it unconstitutional, because the U.S. Supreme Court just did, and they decide.

"Today’s decision is a landmark victory for Second Amendment freedom in the United States," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "For this first time in the history of our Republic, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms was and is an individual right as intended by our Founding Fathers…Unlike Senator Obama, who refused to join me in signing a bipartisan amicus brief, I was pleased to express my support and call for the ruling issued today."

Where is Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, on this issue?

Tough to tell.

He was asked about it yesterday.

"Why don’t I wait until the decision comes out, and I’ll comment on it, instead of trying to prognosticate on what the Supreme Court is going to decide tomorrow," he said. "What I’ve said is that I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. But I do not think that that precludes local governments being able to provide some common sense gun laws that keep guns out of the hands of gang bangers or children, that local jurisdictions are going to have different sets of problems, and that this is a very fact intensive decision that has to be made. But I do think that the Second Amendment is an individual right. So what I’d like to do is wait and see how the Supreme Court comes down and evaluate the actual reasoning in the case, to see how broad or narrow the decision’s going to be."

But last year his campaign told the Chicago Tribune  that Obama "believes that we can recognize and respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and the right of local communities to enact common sense laws to combat violence and save lives. Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional.’"

But Obama campaign spox Bill Burton told ABC News’ Teddy Davis that that statement "was obviously an inartful attempt to explain the Senator’s consistent position."

What is that consistent position? At the Philadelphia debate, ABC News’ Charlie Gibson asked Obama whether the ban was constitutional.

"Well, Charlie, I confess I obviously haven’t listened to the briefs and looked at all the evidence," he said.

Earlier, during the Potomac primaries, Obama had the following exchange during an interview with WJLA-TV’s Leon Harris:

HARRIS: One other issue that’s of great importance here in the district as well is gun control. You said in Idaho recently – I’m quoting here – ‘I have no intention of taking away folks’ guns.’ But you support the D.C. handgun ban and you’ve said that it’s constitutional. How can you reconcile those two different positions

OBAMA: Because I think we have two conflicting traditions in this country. I think it’s important for us to recognize that we’ve got a tradition of handgun ownership and gun ownership generally. And a lot of people – law-abiding citizens use if for hunting, for sportsmanship, and for protecting their families. We also have a violence on the streets that is the result of illegal handgun usage. And so I think there is nothing wrong with a community saying we are going to take those illegal handguns off the streets, we are going to trace more effectively, how these guns are ending up on the streets, to unscrupulous gun dealers, who often times are selling to straw purchasers. And cracking down on the various loopholes that exist in terms of background checks for children, the mentally ill. Those are all approaches that I think the average gun owner would actually support. The problem is, that we’ve got a position, often times by the NRA that says any regulation whatsoever is the camel’s nose under the tent. And that, I think, is not where the American people are at. We can have reasonable, thoughtful gun control measure that I think respect the Second Amendment and people’s traditions.

Watch HERE.

The problem with that answer is that the DC handgun ban was not a regulation or a restriction of guns — it was a ban.

As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the court’s 5-4 decision today "the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

But that said, Scalia wrote, "the District’s total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of ‘arms’ that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Under any of the standards of scrutiny the Court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition—in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family, and property is most acute—would fail constitutional muster."

Recall that the plaintiff in the suit was a special policeman who wanted to have a handgun in his home for self-defense and was denied the lawful ability to do so.

- jpt

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