A woman in the crowd told Obama she had “heard a rumor” that he might be planning some sort of gun ban upon being elected president. Obama trotted out his standard policy stance, that he had a deep respect for the “traditions of gun ownership” but favored measures in big cities to keep guns out of the hands of “gang bangers and drug dealers’’ in big cities “who already have them and are shooting people.”
“If you’ve got a gun in your house, I’m not taking it,’’ Obama said. But the Illinois senator could still see skeptics in the crowd, particularly on the faces of several men at the back of the room.
So he tried again. “Even if I want to take them away, I don’t have the votes in Congress,’’ he said. “This can’t be the reason not to vote for me. Can everyone hear me in the back? I see a couple of sportsmen back there. I’m not going to take away your guns.’’
As I read it, he’s making a simple rhetorical point to try to moot gun owners’ paranoia, like McCain telling a group of pro-choice voters, “I’m not going to issue a decree banning abortion. Even if I wanted to, I lack the constitutional authority.” Translation: If you’re unwilling to take me in good faith, at least recognize that it’s stupid to let your vote turn on the issue given the political reality of the situation. If this is some kind of Freudian slip pregnant with secret intent, how does it jibe with 18 months’ worth of notoriously weaselly statements on the subject? He keeps his rhetoric cautious because he’s actually deathly afraid of offending gun owners in swing states; hence his repeated trumpeting of the rights of hunters and “sportsmen” to own guns even while pandering to his base by questioning the rights of city dwellers — although not questioning them so sharply that he couldn’t conveniently flip-flop on the D.C. gun ban after the Heller decision came down. Is the suggestion that he’s now let his guard down just two months before the election? Or is it that he’s going to throw electoral caution to the wind once in office and push for some sort of Second Amendment rollback with his deep blue Congress, thereby handing the GOP a killer wedge issue on a silver platter? I don’t get it.
Update (Ed): My take on this is that Obama was trying too hard to convince people and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, in a rhetorical sense. All he needed was a categorical denial, and he should have left it at that. If he wanted to make the “I don’t have enough votes” argument — a really stupid argument in a year where Democrats are campaigning for veto-proof majorities — he should have led off with that strictly as a hypothetical, rather than using it as an encore.
Now, he’s left it ambiguous, with the notion that the only thing holding him back is a lack of votes on the floors of Congress. Is that accurate? Maybe not, but it was Obama’s own argument, and he has to answer for it.