Robert Novak

Obama's dilemma was that his reading of a Second Amendment that "means something" made it difficult for him to say the D.C. law was constitutional. His public pronouncements were so imprecise that The Associated Press misreported him at a February press conference in Milwaukee saying he "voiced support" for the ban.

In March and April, I tried unsuccessfully for weeks to get a simple "yes" or "no" from Obama on constitutionality. When the question for the first time was put to him directly at ABC's Philadelphia presidential debate on April 16, he answered, "I confess I obviously haven't listened to the briefs and looked at all the evidence." On National Public Radio April 21 the day before the Pennsylvania primary, Obama said, "I don't know all the details and specifics of the D.C. gun law." He had not been asked and had not volunteered his opinion prior to Thursday's decision.

The issue will return when Chicago's handgun ban, modeled after the Washington law, is challenged in the courts. As a Chicago lawyer, Obama can hardly plead ignorance as he did concerning the D.C. gun ban. But with the case wending its way back to the Supreme Court for the next year, Obama will not have to answer the question before the November election.

While Scalia's opinion for now saves Obama from defending a court that had emasculated gun rights, one inconvenient truth confronts the candidate. He has made clear that as president he would nominate Supreme Court justices who agree with the minority of four that the Second Amendment is meaningless. Would he want a reconstituted court to roll back the District of Columbia decision when the Chicago case gets there?

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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