After the horror that was Northern Illinois University Thursday afternoon, Barack Obama announced Friday morning that, as a constitutional attorney, he supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms, thinks it doesn't only apply to the militia, and that he also plans to use California gun control legislation as a paradigm for a national policy to contain the spread of gun violence.
But, is it really possible to have it both ways? Can one support the right to bear arms, as well as implement the kind of national gun control legislation that will stem the flood of shootings on our nation's campuses, streets, and homes? Essentially, the question is, should Senator Obama become President Obama would he be prepared to take on the most powerful, and influential, congressional lobby outside of the tobacco industry, the gun lobby?
After the spate of campus killings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now at NIU, there is little doubt that the former President, and his attorney general brother, Robert F. Kennedy, would be hard at work on federal gun control legislation now.
Obama is fond of this quote from President John F. Kennedy: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate," but is he any more ready for hand to hand combat with those who put their rifles next to Gideon's Bible in Motel 6's from Idaho to Alaska, those who are the most obstinate opponents of restrictions on the possession, manufacture, and sale of firearms? He suggests that he would support legislation on the order of gun laws implemented, in California, during Gray Davis' tenure as governor.
While California has some of the most draconian firearm laws in the country, requiring that only those handguns be sold, or manufactured, that are listed on the Bureau of Firearms approved list, it's important to remember that private sales are exempted from this restriction. Moreover, one does not need a license to own a handgun in California.
In the nation's capital, all firearms must be registered with the police, and possession of handguns is prohibited, even in one's home, unless they were registered before 1976. And, while this handgun ban is currently being challenged by those who think it violates their Second Amendment right to bear arms, the ban will remain in effect until the Supreme Court hears the case.
Importantly, with the exception of certain counties, in Illinois, site of Thursday's mass shootings and Obama's home state, registering a firearm is not mandated by law, and a Firearm Owner's Identification Card may be easily obtained unless the applicant has been convicted of a felony, or was a mental patient within the past five years, nor is there a carry permit requirement. Notably, the gunman who randomly shot two dozen in a university lecture hall obtained his guns legally.
As one who doesn't profess to know enough about constitutional law to discuss the Second Amendment, I leave it to the Supreme Court to decide what that entitlement is. But, surely the time is ripe to consider some kind of national program, as well as how anyone can demand "Voter I.D.," and not insist upon "Firearms I.D."
One can only hope that, when the Supremes prepare to consider their first gun control appeals case in 70 years, the toxic image of the Virginia Tech shooter will be juxtaposed in their memory along with the Northern Illinois University gunman, as well as others who have taken the lives of middle school students in Oxnard, and done drive-bys throughout our inner cities. One would hope that this, too, would be factored into their deliberations.
Were it possible for the founding fathers to anticipate that, two centuries after their demise, assault weapons would be used by neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, they might have been less ambiguous as to when one has a constitutional right to bear arms. Clearly, as survivors of a revolutionary war, their concept of civilian and militia must have been much different from our own.
Those who like to compare Barack Obama to John F. Kennedy, or his brother and attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, must be reminded that, whether rightly or otherwise, President Kennedy stood up to Cuba, and Bobby Kennedy took on organized crime. We may not be sure of much, but we can count on the courage of both Kennedy brothers to take on the most virulent of corporate lobbies in this country. But, forty years from now, will one be able to say the same of President Obama?
For the past eight years, we've had a President, and a Justice Department, that is too spineless to admit having taken a wrong turn with respect to our involvement in Iraq, yet is not afraid, or ashamed, to tweak the Constitution in ways that compromise freedom of expression, and due process.
For nearly a decade, the Bush administration has lip synched the neo-conservative mantra of respect for human life while, at the same time, forever changing our notion of human rights. One has only to look at the treatment Jose Padilla received at the hands of his captors to grasp that this administration has no more respect for the human rights, and dignity, of its citizens than of those it detains in Iraq, or Afghanistan.
One thing is clear, a McCain presidency will cater to the gun lobby, and not act to seek federal legislation that will limit access to firearms.
What's more, if interpretation of the Second Amendment is in order, one would hope that it would be weighted heavily in favor of the preservation of human life, thus we ask Senator Obama, or any presidential nominee, to look to Washington, D.C., not to California, as a model for gun control legislation, and to work together with gun groups, and law enforcement, to get firearms out of the hands of our children, out of our classrooms, schoolyards, and streets.