“The President believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms,” the White House says, “and he respects our nation’s rich hunting and sport shooting traditions.” The 22-page document mentions hunting and sport shooting five more times, but there are only two mentions of self-defense, both of them in this sentence (which appears twice): “Most gun owners buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for self-defense, hunting or sport shooting.” That ratio is a pretty accurate reflection of Obama’s rhetorical record on this issue, which features more assurances to hunters and sport shooters than references to self-defense.

Does it matter? I think it does, because someone who thinks the Second Amendment is mainly about shooting deer and targets will have a much broader concept of constitutional gun restrictions than someone who recognizes that it is mainly about defense against various kinds of aggressors. …

It does not help Obama’s credibility that he defended the constitutionality of both the Washington, D.C., and Chicago gun bans before they were overturned by the Supreme Court. If he were smart, he would talk more about the right to self-defense and less about hunting and target shooting, the better to smooth the way for the restrictions he wants. Every time he pays lip service to “our nation’s rich hunting and sport shooting traditions,” its sets off alarm bells among Americans who value the Second Amendment for other reasons.