By Dave Kopel
Townhall.com, May 8, 2008. More by Kopel on the gun issue in the 2008 election.
If you doubt the transformational power of Barack Obama, consider the change that he's effected on Hillary Clinton. The New York Senator came into the 2008 race with a nearly perfect anti-gun rights voting record, following her White House tenure on behalf of the most aggressively anti-Second Amendment administration in American history. Yet today, her candidacy survives because of the pro-gun vote.
A Tuesday loss in Indiana would have ended the race. But she eked out a 2% victory by carrying the votes of gun-owning households (who made up half of the electorate) in a 22% landslide. In Pennsylvania, her ten-point win brought in ten million dollars of cash that she needed to keep going. Her 25% margin in gun-owning households of the Keystone State (a third of the electorate) turned what would have been a close contest into a runaway.
In North Carolina, she was crushed by Obama. Yet among gun-owning households, she actually won the state by 3%, her 15 point loss being attributable to Obama's margin in the non-gun households.
Even before the final Indiana results had even been counted, a Clinton campaign press release crowed about her demonstrated appeal to gun owners.
In the final days before Indiana, the Clinton campaign sent a targeted mailing to Hoosier gun owners. It pointed out that Obama claimed to support the Second Amendment, and promised not to take away people's guns. But, as the mailing noted, Obama had endorsed handgun prohibition in 1996. The mailer also reminded voters about Obama's comment to a wealthy San Francisco crowd that economically distressed people in small towns in the Midwest "cling" to guns because they are "bitter."
The Clinton mailing wasn't pitch-perfect. It featured a picture of a beautiful rifle, a 66 Mauser. The Mauser costs about $2,200, and sports a double trigger, an accessory rarely found on American guns, but more typical of Western Europe, where the firearms market is more geared to custom guns for the aristocracy, as opposed to America's off-the-racks guns for the masses.
Even so, gun-owning Hoosiers apparently got the message that Obama's claims to support the Second Amendment individual right were "just words." Despite Obama's purported support for the Second Amendment, he has lately been refusing to say whether or not he thinks the District of Columbia's handgun ban is constitutional. Yet last November, his campaign released a statement declaring that Obama considers the handgun ban constitutional, and to be a "common sense" local anti-violence policy.
During the debate just before Pennsylvania, Obama again refused to answer a direct question about the D.C. ban, claiming that he has a policy of not commenting on pending cases. But in another case that was pending before the Court--a challenge to Indiana's law requiring voters to present a current photo ID--Obama had signed onto an amicus brief arguing that that ID law was unconstitutional.
Exit polls show that a large fraction of voters are concerned about Obama's relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The Obama campaign counters that voters should just look at Obama's policies, and that Obama hasn't adopted the pastor's policies.
Yet on the gun issue, there's a close parallel between one of Obama's close spiritual advisors and Obama's own anti-rights extremism. An April 5, 2004, article about Obama in the Chicago Sun-Times reported, "Friends and advisers, such as the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church in the Auburn--Gresham community on the South Side, who has known Obama for the better part of 20 years, help him keep that compass set, he [Obama] says." The Obama campaign touted Pfleger as one of several prominent ministers endorsing Obama.
Father Pfleger is well-known to Chicagoland gun owners for his picketing of Chuck's Gun Shop, in the town of Riverdale, which borders Chicago's south side. There being no gun stores in Chicago, Chuck's is the closest gun store to the Windy City. Pfleger and his picketers demand that the Riverdale city council outlaw all gun stores in the city. "Vote Riverdale gun dry," they chant.
Obama's compass points in the same directions as Pfleger's. When running for the U.S. House in 1999, Barack Obama called for a federal law banning all gun stores within five miles of a school or park. This would implement the Pfleger "gun dry" plan nationwide, outlawing gun stores from almost city or town in America.
Senator Clinton no more deserves gun-owner votes than Lord Voldemort deserves the Muggle vote. In the Senate, she has voted in favoring of abusive lawsuits against law-abiding gun manufacturers, for banning cosmetically incorrect guns which are falsely labeled "assault weapons," and for allowing federal funds to be used to confiscate guns from law-abiding citizens after a natural disaster--as was done following Hurricane Katrina.
Her lone pro-Second Amendment vote was for a national bill allowing retired police officers, under stringent licensing conditions, to carry concealed handguns in all fifty states.
Yet Senator Clinton's childhood in the Midwest, and her decades in Arkansas, have apparently given her the ability to project an impression of at least slight understanding of American gun culture, a culture which Obama seems to regard with a condescending detachment like that of a 19th-century Oxford anthropologist examining a tribe of Amazonian headhunters.
Thus, the Democratic race continues into June, thanks to Senator Clinton's iron will, and the most surprising new group in her base: Democratic gun owners and their families.