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Obama on Handguns:

In a 1996 questionnaire, he answered "Yes" to the question, "Do you support state legislation to ... ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns?" Politico reports on this, and goes on to say:

A week after Politico provided the questionnaire to the Obama campaign for comment, an aide called Monday night to say that Obama had said he did not fill out the form, and provided a contact for his campaign manager at the time, who said she filled it out. It includes first-person comments such as: "I have not previously been a candidate."

The campaign said his views have been consistent, and points out that his positions have always been more nuanced than can be conveyed in yes-or-no answers.

Obama, who makes an issue of his opponents' consistency in the presidential race, has tempered many of those 1996 views during his quick rise to the pinnacle of American politics. He now takes less dogmatic positions many of those hot-button issues -- in the view of some Democrats, he abandoned the stands as he rose through the ranks....

On handguns, his campaign said he has consistently been for "common-sense limits, but not banning" throughout his 11-year political career.

The Hillary Clinton campaign responded:

Barack Obama's campaign is on the defensive about his electability today in the face of a new CBS/New York Times poll showing voters find Hillary Clinton far more electable and a news report showing Sen. Obama previously held positions -- such as banning all handguns -- that he no longer claims to espouse.

Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.

Disingenuous Much? (mail):
Attacking Obama for flip-flopping as he moved from local to federal politics? That seems like a bad move for HRC, given her inconsistent record. When I see campaigns throwing out stuff like this and hoping nobody challenges it, I get a little perturbed.
12.12.2007 5:37pm
Mike& (mail):
In light of Bill and Hillary Clinton's experience with the 1995 "Republican Revolution," Hillary Clinton might indeed be the best electable Democrat candidate for gun rights. She witnesses the political consequences of taking gun control too far.
12.12.2007 5:39pm
Anderson (mail):
The part about handguns is actually in part two of the questionnaire.
12.12.2007 5:39pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
That's right -- I link to part 2 under the "answered 'Yes'" text.
12.12.2007 5:48pm
Anderson (mail):
Ah, missed that -- I think I saw it as one link. Oops!
12.12.2007 5:51pm
pete (mail) (www):
According to the 1998 IL State Legislative National Political Awareness Test Jul 2, 1998, which I have been unable to locate an original copy of after a very brief google search, Obama said he would "Ban the sale or transfer of all forms of semi-automatic weapons"

Maybe an aid filled that out for him as well, but that is not a very nuanced position as it would outlaw the transfer of millions of handguns and longguns that are now perfectly legal for most adults to transfer.
12.12.2007 5:58pm
Steve:
Blaming the campaign manager is pretty weak. It's one thing if some low-level staffer went off on a lark, but the campaign manager most certainly speaks for the candidate. You couldn't have a campaign if it didn't work that way.
12.12.2007 6:13pm
Cornellian (mail):
He would have been barely over 30 in 1996. I'd think less of a candidate who held exactly the same opinions on every issue as he did at that age. People as they age are expected to acquire wisdom and an awareness that things tend to be more nuanced than they appear to the typical 30 year old.
12.12.2007 6:16pm
George W. Obama (mail):
Is supporting state legislation to ban the sale of all handguns in Illinois the same as proposing a ban of all handguns in the United States?

No.

The Clinton attack machine is confabulating. Precisely because Obama has stated that he believes the Second Amendment secures an individual right. (Never gave his opinion publicly on Presser v. Illinois, however....)


that is not a very nuanced position as it would outlaw the transfer of millions of handguns and longguns that are now perfectly legal for most adults to transfer


Millions of handguns across the United States? Or just in Illinois?

If Hillary Clinton wants to engage Obama on gun rights, why not do it in an actual debate? I challenge Clinton the Coward to make this charge to Obama's face in the next Democratic debate. The idea that Hillary "we're taking things away from you for the common good" Clinton is a stronger supporter of the Second Amendment than Barack Obama is laughable. And so is her pathetic gossipmongering about Obama's crackdealing in kindergarten to finance his Indonesian terror cell.

The Empress has no clothes. It ain't pretty.
12.12.2007 6:16pm
George W. Obama (mail):
back in 2000, when Mrs. Clinton was running for Senate, she backed the "Million Mom March" for gun control, and, according to CNN, told the Newspaper Association of America, "We have to do more to stand up to those who refuse to believe the reality that guns do kill and that common-sense gun measures can make a difference." When she ran for re-election in 2006, she earned a rating of "F" from the National Rifle Association's Political Victory Fund.
12.12.2007 6:18pm
K Parker (mail):
his positions have always been more nuanced...
Worked pretty well for Kerry, didn't it?
12.12.2007 6:26pm
wooga:
So... George, is Obama going to come out and say that the Second Amendment does not apply to states? I would love a Democratic candidate to actually utter the mysterious word 'federalism' and banish Mister Mxyzptlk to the Fifth Dimension challenge Dennis Kucinich on the role of the federal government.
12.12.2007 6:30pm
deke hauser:
Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Like Rosie O'Donnell and Carl Rowan, Mr Obama wants guns banned for self-defense for all except his ownself and, perhaps, his gov't-paid-for guards.
12.12.2007 6:42pm
Law Student (Section 4,5,6):
So many posts today, Prof. Volokh! Are you done grading our exams?
12.12.2007 6:47pm
AF:
Shouldn't campaign coverage on this site come with some sort of disclosure that the author is a member of the "Legal Professors Committee" of Fred Thompson's presidential campaign?
12.12.2007 6:47pm
CEB:

I'd think less of a candidate who held exactly the same opinions on every issue as he did at that age.

That's a tempting perspective. God know I wouldn't want to be judged by the things I believed in 1996. But I don't think it's unfair to expect someone who wishes to be president of the United States to have 10+ years worth of a solid and consistent political philosophy.
12.12.2007 6:50pm
wooga:
AF, I thought that was well known and publicized on this site. A disclaimer on every single "non-Fred" post would get extremely annoying.
12.12.2007 6:50pm
George W. Obama (mail):

is Obama going to come out and say that the Second Amendment does not apply to states? I would love a Democratic candidate to actually utter the mysterious word 'federalism' and



Well, his health care plan lacks a mandate for a reason.

Obama clearly believes the government has limits.
12.12.2007 6:57pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Jeez, AF, even if many of our readers don't know that I'm supporting Fred Thompson, do you really think that many miss the fact that I'm highly unlikely to support Obama? And how is the identity of the particular Republican candidate I'm supporting particularly relevant to my disagreement with Obama?
12.12.2007 6:58pm
Cornellian (mail):
That's a tempting perspective. God know I wouldn't want to be judged by the things I believed in 1996. But I don't think it's unfair to expect someone who wishes to be president of the United States to have 10+ years worth of a solid and consistent political philosophy.

I'd be satisfied with a persuasive explanation of why he's moderated or changed his opinion on an issue.
12.12.2007 6:58pm
AF:
Jeez, AF, even if many of our readers don't know that I'm supporting Fred Thompson, do you really think that many miss the fact that I'm highly unlikely to support Obama? And how is the identity of the particular Republican candidate I'm supporting particularly relevant to my disagreement with Obama?

First, I should emphasize that I am holding volokh.com to a very high standard, based on its track record of extraordinary quality and intellectual honesty. I acknowledge that many bloggers and political commentators would fail to meet this standard.

That said, I draw a distinction between having well-known political sympathies and being formally affiliated with a campaign. The distinction is analogous to the one between having well-known legal views and representing a particular client. A formal campaign affiliation creates an obligation to help that particular campaign, whereas having congenial political sympathies creates no such obligation. Thus, I consider a blogger's formal affiliation with a particular campaign to be relevant information in assessing his statements about other candidates, even if the blogger's general political views are well known.

With respect to Obama, the relevant issue is not so much that Professor Volokh is affiliated with Thompson as opposed to another Republican candidate, but that he is affiliated with a Republican candidate at all. Nobody could question Professor Volokh's sincerity in disagreeing with Obama's views on gun control. It is a less clear, however, whether he would have considered Obama's one-word answer on an 11-year old questionnaire to be relevant to assessing those views, absent his affiliation with a Republican candidate who may prefer to face one or another Democratic candidate in the general election, and in whose interest it is for the Democratic candidates to be weakened by attacks during the primary season.

It's possible that Professor Volokh's affiliation with the Thompson campaign has no effect on this post or any other post about the presidential campaign. But it is plausible enough that disclosure would be helpful to the reader.
12.12.2007 7:38pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Leaving aside the merits of the dispute, just once I would like to see the Clinton campaign DISCUSS the merits of a dispute with another candidate, rather than immediately sinking into a discussion of who is more electable and whose campaign is flailing about and whose campaign is sinking into the mud.

That statement by her campaign is exactly the sort of thing that makes me want to never vote for her even for dogcatcher. If Obama's wrong, say where you think he's wrong. The statement isn't made more persuasiave by a digression into motives and tactics; it is made less persusasive.
12.12.2007 7:49pm
Beem:
I am somewhat doubtful of the relevance of a decade old questionnaire in determining the present opinions of Obama. Seems a bit silly to me - I am sure there are more recent remarks to use.

One could play the same game with Rudy, who was a pretty serious gun control zealot in his heyday. Of course, being a Republican presidential candidate now, his views have more or less instantaneously reversed.

The views of politicians change according to their perceived constituents - surprise, surprise. One can see that clearly with Rudy. I suspect the same is true for Obama, which is why I don't see the relevance of an old questionnaire. But if we're going to play that way, I don't quite understand why we don't see any tut-tutting of decade old views of Rudy, for instance.
12.12.2007 8:14pm
AK (mail):
I'm For Fred, as all the cool kids say, but this is the perfect example of why I wouldn't be too bothered by a Hillary presidency.

There's no question that she's a liberal. But there's even less of a question that she, like her husband, is willing to sell out almost any liberal position to get elected, stay popular, and build a "legacy." Let's not forget that Bill Clinton ultimately signed 80% of the Contract With America (in one form or another). Why? Because it was popular, and he needed to be popular to win re-election in 1996.

Hillary is hitting Obama from the right on guns because that's where the majority is, and because that's how the Supreme Court is going to come down on the DC gun ban. She's getting in on the 2nd Amendment on the ground floor. She did it with the Iraq War: for the Iraq War when it was popular and against it when it wasn't.

So if the Republican can't win, bring on President Hillary. She'll always be with the majority, and my views are in the majority half of the time.
12.12.2007 8:36pm
AK (mail):
I suspect the same is true for Obama, which is why I don't see the relevance of an old questionnaire. But if we're going to play that way, I don't quite understand why we don't see any tut-tutting of decade old views of Rudy, for instance.

To paraphrase Keynes, when the facts change, I change my opinions. I have no problem with a candidates changing his mind on an issue. What's interesting about the 2nd Amendment is that in the past decade, prominent liberal legal scholars have begun to come around to the individual rights interpretation. If you're a mainstream Democrat who has always taken his cues on Constitutional law from Larry Tribe, you're going to change your opinion when he does. I don't see anything wrong with that.

Of course, I do want to know why a candidate changes his mind on an issue, because that gives me some indication of the likelihood that his opinion will change yet again. But politicians changing their mind is nothing new. Al Gore used to be pro-life, opposed to gay rights, and buddies with Fred Phelps. It doesn't seem to bother anyone that he changed his mind on those issues.
12.12.2007 8:42pm
Chimaxx (mail):
CEB:
<blockquote>But I don't think it's unfair to expect someone who wishes to be president of the United States to have 10+ years worth of a solid and consistent political philosophy.</blockquote>

Not sure I understand how a change on any particular issue (including this one, if there actually even IS a change here, as opposed to differing views as to what should be done at the state and federal levels) necessarily indicates a change in political philosophy. Can't a solid and consistent political philosophy lead to subtly or even radically different policy proposals when the governmental scope (municipal vs. state vs federal) is changed or the political branch one is entering or running for (legislative vs executive) is changed.
12.12.2007 9:58pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Somewhere in his website (unless it's since been removed), Obama said that he wanted to "remove guns from the inner city". Given the other comments mentioned above, I doubt that he meant to remove guns from the gang-bangers, but rather from everyone. I suppose it's not racist to do harmful things to the law abiding members of your own race - such as disarming them in the face of criminals who obviously will not disarm. So he either espouses a thoughtless elitist view or he's clueless about how the real world works or doesn't care about the victims of crime.

While Hilary may be a bit better on the gun issue, it's for sure not very much better. To my knowledge, none of the other democrat candidates are much different. My recollection is that ALL of the Republican candidates are better on this issue that ANY of the Democrats.

The moral is, if you own guns and want to continue to do so, care about the victims (and potential victims) of crime more than you care about the criminals, and want to minimize your chances of joining the former category, vote Republican for President in 2008.
12.12.2007 10:08pm
Chimaxx (mail):
And I'm afraid I have to agree with AF: There is an important difference between having well-known political sympathies (no, I wouldn't have expected you to be an Obama supporter) and being formally attached to a campaign (which, being an occasional reader at Volokh, I was not previously aware of). But it was only the "I'm shocked that anyone would question my motives" defensiveness of the reply to AF that made this out-of-character "a pox on both the Obama and Clinton houses" make sense.
12.12.2007 10:12pm
Chimaxx (mail):
...that made this out-of-character "a pox on both the Obama and Clinton houses" political hit piece make sense.
12.12.2007 10:13pm
Kevin P. (mail):
The one exception on the Democrat side is Gov. Bill Richardson, who is pro-gun, to the point of having a concealed carry license himself.
12.12.2007 10:30pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Chimaxx: I think you're missing my point -- I am not remotely shocked that people will question my motives; I expect readers to recognize that I'm generally a Republican who is going to oppose both Obama and Hillary Clinton, and that this influences my motivation. That would be true if I supported Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or Whoever Is The Republican Candidate. My point is that what is less well-known (my being a Law Professor For Fred Thompson) is not materially relevant to my motives, whereas what is materially relevant to my motives (my being a conservative/libertarian who generally supports Republicans) is well-known and requires no repetition.
12.12.2007 11:27pm
AF:
But Professor Volokh, there is a difference between being an independent conservative/libertarian Republican scholar, and being an affiliate of a Republican presidential campaign. Both are going to make most of their arguments for the Republicans and against the Democrats, but the former is free to praise a Democrat or criticize a Republican when warranted whereas the latter is less free to do so.

An example would be Fred Thompson's lobbying work for pro-abortion groups which was also written about on Politico.com. This, it seems to me, is significantly more worthy of comment than Barack Obama's questionnaire answer: It is both a more significant inconsistency on the candidate's behalf and a more salient policy question to conservative/libertarian voters. My point is not that you should have posted about Thompson's lobbying; obviously you are entitled to post or not post about anything you like. But the fact that there was a post about Obama's alleged inconsistency and not about Thompson's cannot be explained by the fact that this blog is conservative/libertarian. It seems better explained by the fact that it is affiliated with Thompson's campaign. And in an ideal world, the casual reader would be informed of that.

This is not some original idea I made up, by the way. During the campaign season, pundits are regularly identified by their campaign affiliation or who they have endorsed, and not just by their political ideology.
12.13.2007 12:29am
Tony Tutins (mail):
Obama may well have pandered a bit to get the endorsement of the leftwing goo-goo IVI-IPO of Illinois. But to me as a supporter of gun rights, the more damning part of the questionnaire was Obama's board membership on the Joyce Foundation, a funder of gun-ban groups such as the Violence Policy Center. No supporter of handgun ownership would be comfortable on such a board. But, to me, Thompson is the only truly pro-gun candidate.
12.13.2007 1:11am
Tony Tutins (mail):
af - before you ascribe a sinister purpose to our host's selection of what to post, consider that there's a certain timeliness about a Politico post from today about Obama that a Politico post from July about Thompson sadly lacks.
12.13.2007 1:18am
Chimaxx (mail):
I would say it IS materially relevant. Once yo have affiliated yourself with a campaign, we as readers are obliged to consider to what extent political posts come from your own political leanings and to what extent they are campaign talking points.

That is, we can no longer know: Are you writing this particular piece today because of your general antipathy toward theses Democratic candidates or because the Thompson campaign thinks that, if nominated, he has the best chance against Edwards, and thus wants to improve Edwards' chances of a surprise win in the Democratic Iowa caucuses by weakening the other two through coordinated hit pieces designed to weaken both Clinton and Obama?

The fact that you declare your formal association with the Thompson campaign as not salient ("ignore that man behind the curtain") only makes the second interpretation more likely.
12.13.2007 1:38am
Laura S.:

I would say it IS materially relevant. Once yo have affiliated yourself with a campaign, we as readers are obliged to consider to what extent political posts come from your own political leanings and to what extent they are campaign talking points.


What? Campaign talking points. I doubt Eugene is a campaign lackey. I think you confuse 'support' with 'staffer'.
12.13.2007 1:55am
Gary Anderson (mail):
He would have been barely over 30 in 1996. I'd think less of a candidate who held exactly the same opinions on every issue as he did at that age. People as they age are expected to acquire wisdom and an awareness that things tend to be more nuanced than they appear to the typical 30 year old

If you're playing the "young man" card, maybe we'd better give him another 8, 12, or 16 years to fully evolve and show us not only his solid stance on issues, but his leadership skills. In say the Senate, perhaps. On committees or as a cabinet member.

It's not his race or light-weightedness, but overall America just will not elect this man as President, who is only one term out of the Illinois Senate. The enthusiastic "hope" demographics just aren't spread evenly allowing his campaign to capture all that many states.

If you want the Republicans to win, vote Obama in the primary. Oprah's popularity with housewives and her giveaways and image polishing are fine for entertainment, but we need a proven leader at this time in history. We can't afford to take a chance and let him cut his teeth at that level. Not at this point in the game, and coming off the most disastrous 8 years overall for America since our WWII peak.
12.13.2007 8:42am
Gary Anderson (mail):
For Fred, huh?

I can understand why some people choose to keep their political views private, so it doesn't damage their reputation.

Is it his wife? Or you liked his tv roles and are hoping for a Ronald Reagun redux?

Or are you acknowledging that the President nowadays is just a facade, he doesn't have to be a thinker or career policymaker -- it's the men behind the Presidential face who are really running the country and pulling the strings, so the prettiest masculine face wins in the ceremonial role of President?
12.13.2007 8:49am
PersonFromPorlock:

I doubt Eugene is a campaign lackey. I think you confuse 'support' with 'staffer'.

Precisely. So long as EV will drop a candidate if the candidate's positions move away from EV's -- and I have no doubt that he would do so -- then he is representing himself, not the candidate. We already knew he was doing that.
12.13.2007 9:04am
AF:
I want to reiterate that I am not ascribing a sinister purpose to anyone. There is nothing wrong with advocating for a candidate, nor is it obvious that Professor Volokh is doing so. My only point is that disclosure would be appropriate.
12.13.2007 9:25am
Adam J:
AF- Maybe if he was directly discussing Thompson you'd have half an argument, but you can't expect someone to disclose any possibly relevant conflict of interest on something as mundane as a blog. For cripes sake, it's not like Eugene is seeking senate confirmation.
12.13.2007 12:29pm
Piano_JAM (mail):
bring on President Hillary. She'll always be with the majority, and my views are in the majority half of the time

Exactly what I want in a President - someone who does not do what is right - but what everyone wants. /sarcasm
12.13.2007 1:50pm
Libertarianaut (mail):
"Kevin P.:
The one exception on the Democrat side is Gov. Bill Richardson, who is pro-gun, to the point of having a concealed carry license himself."

How does having a 'license' to exercise a right make for much of an exception? I know it might make him more Republicanish, but pro-gun isn't about asking for permission.
I'm not trying to be harsh on you Kevin, just trying to point out to readers that even the NRA can be wrong on Article 2; NRA and apparently, BR believe in 'permits'. And they do not speak for me or any other libertarian that I know.
License/permits grant privileges revokable by fiat of gov't policy.
Thank you for bringing this up. All the candidates, except for Ron Paul are still unquestionably unilateral personal disarmament friendly candidates. They just want to start disarming on different demographic slices first.
12.13.2007 3:44pm
wooga:
Gary Anderson,
I can't speak for anyone else, but I've never watched an episode of Law and Order, and I decided to support Fred Thompson before I even knew he was married. The reason was quite simple, and is something that I only understood because I went to law school: federalism. Fred's a federalist, and published numerous intelligent articles explaining his understanding of the principles of federalism. I believe in means over ends, process over desire. So long as we adhere to the core principle of federalism, this country will continue to flourish in the most free manner possible. Once we abandon federalism, the federal government will descend on a path of bloat, pandering, and largess. Put simply, federalism is far and away the most important domestic criteria for a presidential candidate.

There are only two candidates registering in the polls (Fred and Paul) in this election who can be said to agree with the following: "The federal government is one of limited, enumerated powers." Paul's foreign policy views are unacceptable, and thus Fred is the only choice left.

Moreover, I would rather have a lazy, disinterested president than another legacy seeking busy body (see Huckabee, Bush, Clinton). If I want a politician to meddle in my life, let them do it at the state capital, not DC. I'm sorry, but I don't give a crap about who has the best hair, most charisma, smoothest voice, or is breaking some perceived barrier to be the first 'whatever' in the White House. I care about principles, and Fred is the only candidate whose principles match mine.
12.13.2007 3:45pm
NickM (mail) (www):
I think this is the first time I have ever seen Fred Thompson described as the "prettiest".

Obama isn't saying he changed his views; he's trying to disavow that he ever believed something that a questionnaire from his campaign stated, claiming that his position was too nuanced for a yes-or-no answer.

Strangely enough, actual legislation requires a yes or no vote. You can't vote for more nuance.

Nick
12.13.2007 3:56pm
Adam J:
NickM- the pres tends to get a little more imput into legislation then just yes or no.
12.13.2007 4:01pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Thompson is the only truly pro-gun candidate.
While I support Thompson, I would not agree. There are other pro-gun candidates. Some are whackos like Ron Paul, and others have no realistic chance of winning the nomination (like Hunter and Tancredo), but we actually have a number of pro-gun candidates.

And for the guy who argues that anyone who gets a license to carry concealed isn't really pro-gun--sorry, but you better go join the Ron Paul campaign, so that you can be sufficiently pure.
12.13.2007 4:16pm
Libertarianaut (mail):
Thanks, Clayton, I'll do that. Folks living in Alaska and Vermont, too, eh?
It appears even 'gunnies' have their differences. Shame. It helps to split us and destroy our vote block. That's how we got to the sad place where we have to ask the Sheriff for Permission.

DVC

Necessity is the plea of every infringement of human freedom. It is
the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. -William Pitt

"Never forget, even for an instant, that the one and only reason
anyone has
for taking your gun away is to make you weaker than he is, so that he
can do
something to you that you wouldn't let him do if you were equipped to
prevent it. This goes for burglars, muggers, rapists, and even more
so for
policemen, bureaucrats, and politicians."
From the novel "Hope" by L. Neil Smith and Aaron Zelman
12.13.2007 4:32pm
Brett Bellmore:

NRA and apparently, BR believe in 'permits


There's no conflict between concealed carry permits and the right to keep and bear arms; They're permits to conceal the firearm, not carry it. There is, I think, ample historical evidence that concealment was never regarded as part of the right. Hiding a firearm was considered a practice of criminals, the law abiding wore their guns openly.
12.13.2007 7:09pm
Libertarianaut (mail):
Then why are Americans being harrassed/arrested by cops and more for open carry?
I'd like to see the ample historical evidence.
While concealled carry has tactical benefits, open carry has benefits societally/politically. Should Americans with knowledge of their rights stay in the closet?
12.13.2007 7:19pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Adam - while the President can argue, cajole, etc. for nuance along the way, his actual choices are limited to signing or vetoing the bill (or to, by inaction, effectively take one of the prior options).

Nick
12.13.2007 10:04pm