Last spring, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to arms, Democrats hoped the decision would neutralize the gun issue. Instead the ruling, by inviting debate over which kinds of gun control are constitutional, has made the issue more salient.
That's bad news for Barack Obama, who the National Rifle Association (NRA) says "would be the most anti-gun president in American history." The Democratic nominee pays lip service to Second Amendment rights while calling for "common sense," "reasonable" restrictions. But Obama's sense of what's reasonable, while common among the left-liberal politicians and activists inside his comfort zone, may seem decidedly unreasonable to the pro-gun voters the NRA is trying to mobilize against him.
Since these voters made a decisive difference in the 2000 presidential election, and arguably in 2004 as well, this is a threat Obama ignores at his peril. The NRA plans to spend $15 million urging voters in battleground states of the Midwest and Mountain West to "Defend Freedom" and "Defeat Obama." Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is running radio spots in swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia that promise "Barack Obama and John McCain will both make sure we keep our guns."
Although Factcheck.org faults the NRA for distorting Obama's record, every falsifiable claim in its TV spots has a factual basis. In one ad, a Virginia hunter complains that Obama supports "a huge new tax on my guns and ammo," referring to a position Obama took in 1999. He adds that the Illinois senator voted to "ban virtually all deer-hunting ammunition," a reference to his 2005 vote for a federal ban on rifle ammunition "designed or marketed as having armor piercing capability," phrasing that arguably covered deer-hunting ammunition.
Finally, the hunter complains that Obama wants to ban shotguns and rifles used for hunting, alluding to his support for reinstating the federal "assault weapon" ban. That law arbitrarily prohibited firearms based mainly on cosmetic features that made them look scary to gun-naive politicians.
In another NRA ad, an Iraq war veteran from Wisconsin complains, "Barack Obama opposes my right to own a handgun for self-defense." In a 1996 questionnaire, Obama's state Senate campaign said he supported a handgun ban. Today, Obama says that was a mistake, but the questionnaire bears his handwriting, so he clearly saw it without changing the supposedly erroneous answer.