Gun Rights and Presidential Politics

Posted: Nov 26, 2007 12:00 AM
Gun Rights and Presidential Politics

The debate over individual gun rights just has become a front line issue in the 2008 presidential campaign. The United States Supreme Court decision to hear arguments on District of Columbia v. Heller, the D.C. gun ban case, guarantees it.

In the District of Columbia, it is a crime to have a handgun. It also is a crime to have shotguns or rifles unless they are unloaded and disabled. Ordinary people cannot have a gun, even in their own homes.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the law as unconstitutional. The court said the Second Amendment does not allow a law like it because it keeps Americans living in D.C. from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

Now the Supreme Court will weigh in on whether or not the framers of the Constitution actually bestowed a right to government over the people in the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights.

The answer seems obvious.

The Bill of Rights details individual rights that government cannot take away. When the framers referred to the people, they meant the individual, not the government. Most Americans get it. Even liberal legal scholars like Alan Dershowitz and Laurence Tribe get it when it comes to the individual rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. They believe the clear wording of the document favors the individual’s gun rights.

Though it seems to escape the mayor of D.C., Adrian Fenty, who thinks Constitutional rights can be legislated away. “It’s the will of the people of the District of Columbia that has to be respected,” Mr. Fenty recently said at a news conference. “We should have the right to make our own decisions.”

With nearly 100 million American gun owners and a fluid nominating process in both primaries, Second Amendment voters matter. In fact, their votes could be the deciding factor in the volatile Iowa and New Hampshire contests propelling the winner into the pivotal South Carolina and Florida primaries.

Second Amendment voters are strict constitutionalists and will be closely watching how the presidential candidates address the gun issue.

The president is sworn to uphold “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The duty to protect the Constitution and uphold the law requires a firm, clear belief one way or the other on the rights of Americans to buy and own a gun.

Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain, and Mike Huckabee are staunch Second Amendment advocates and all oppose most restrictions on gun rights including D.C.’s. Rudy Giuliani favors some restrictions but opposes the D.C. gun ban. He thinks the Supreme Court should strike it down permanently.

Now let’s hear what Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, and John Edwards have to say. What do they believe the framers meant by the “people”? The answers will speak volumes about their views on a wide range of issues.

Over the past few years, a heated national debate has raged over what the Constitution says about presidential power, war, the environment, education, health care, the reach of federal power, affirmative action, abortion, and immigration.

The American people have the right to know how a presidential candidate would interpret the Constitution’s most basic tenet — the rights of individuals over government.

The former president of the National Riffle Association, Sandy Froman, recently explained the importance of the case and how it could impact Americans nationwide. The first Jewish-American to hold that office in the 136-year history of the NRA, and a respected colleague, Ms. Froman has a very personal reason for her unwavering advocacy of individual gun rights. Nearly 25 years ago, she was the victim of a home invasion. In a recent column, Ms. Froman explained, “I learned first hand that the right of self-defense means nothing unless you also have the means of self-defense.”

Anti-Second Amendment advocates also understand the importance of the case. They hope the court guts the gun rights allowed in the Bill of Rights.

“We’re nervous,” president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Paul Helmke, told the Washington Post. “Anytime you go to the Supreme Court, you could end up with all sorts of gun laws being called into question.”

Presidential candidates whose views on the Second Amendment have been questioned should step up and detail their position on this issue. Mrs. Clinton, and Messrs. Obama and Edwards should explain their views. Mr. Giuliani should explain more fully why he opposes the D.C. gun ban but supports other restrictions on Second Amendment rights.

The American people expect leadership. Part of being a leader is answering the tough questions openly and forthrightly. On this issue, the court will do the heavy lifting. The candidates’ views, however, will certainly leave a mark.

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