The Obama Gun Myth (Or: How The President’s Strongest Believers Are Conservatives)

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Some people are giving Obama too much credit. And they’re not his supporters, or really anyone in the Democratic Party. To find anyone with heartfelt belief in Obama’s second term, who truly believe he will make monumental progress on any of his issues, you have to go to the far right. Yes, the right. It is only they who seem to most strongly believe that Obama will start doing great things now. I’m paraphrasing Thomas Frank, in an article for Harper’s:

To find someone who sincerely believes that Barack Obama is going to preside over his second term as a strong, determined progressive, you must make your way far to the right. There, the panicked consensus holds that he will remake the nation as dramatically as did Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. There, and only there, will you be told that Obama is preparing to tackle the unemployment problem by establishing a new Works Progress Administration of the kind I called for in this magazine’s pages back in December 2011. Of course, for the true believers who make this assertion […] the idea of a resurgent WPA is the ultimate slacker-coddling nightmare.

Granted, the far right’s assertion of Obama’s greatness is couched in hysteria and apprehension, as with the oncoming of a certain doom, but in so believing it they nonetheless hold the most productive vision of a second Obama term.

The best example of this phenomenon? Gun control. Liberals and supporters of more gun control range from disappointed to annoyed to pretty pissed with Obama’s work on the issue, or lack thereof, since anyone who’s been paying attention knows he hasn’t lived up to anywhere near expectations. This stands in stark contradiction to the beliefs of Obama’s opponents, who refuse to admit the obvious – that Obama has done nothing to try to restrict gun ownership – and who in fact strongly assert the opposite.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a very public proponent of stricter gun control, is quoted in the Washington Post, saying:

“It’s time for the president, I think, to stand up and lead and tell this country what we should do — not go to Congress and say, ‘What do you guys want to do?’” Bloomberg said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “This should be his number one agenda. He’s president of the United States. And if he does nothing during his second term, something like 48,000 Americans will be killed with illegal guns.”

Particularly in light of the recent shooting in Connecticut – not to mention the total of at least twelve other mass shootings this year – many on the left, as well as a few on the right, are calling for Obama to do something on the issue of gun control, seeing as how he has done, essentially, nothing. Howard Kurtz of the Daily Beast, in reference to the president’s heartfelt news conference addressing the Connecticut shooting, writes:

After all, Obama also acted as healer-in-chief after the Gabby Giffords shooting in Tucson, Ariz., and again after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. The president said then that he hoped “we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country.”

But Obama did virtually nothing.

According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence – which is perhaps the most influential pro-gun control lobbying group, named for the Reagan aide who was shot by John Hinkley during Hinkley’s attempted assassination of Reagan – Obama’s administration was consistently and severely lacking in making any progress toward gun control during his first term. They found him so lacking, they issue a “report card” on the president in which they graded him in a number of gun control areas. Most of these areas were issues on which Obama had spoken during his campaign for president in 2008, and then failed to act upon when he got to office. The (unfortunately named) bullet points:

As a candidate, Barack Obama supported:
• Closing the gun show loophole
• Strengthening Brady background checks
• Banning assault weapons
• Repealing the Tiahrt Amendment that hinders
law enforcement and hides crime gun data
• Opposing concealed carry

As President, Barack Obama so far has:
• Kept silent on closing the gun show loophole
• Maintained Bush-era destruction of Brady
background check records
• Silenced Administration officials who spoke out in
favor of banning assault weapons
• Maintained the Tiahrt Amendment and added a
broad new gag order on law enforcement
• Expanded concealed carrying into national parks
and allowed guns on Amtrak trains

This resounding failure, in the eyes of the Brady Campaign, led the organization to grade the president thusly:

Brady Background Checks. . . . .Fobama1styearReport

Gun Show Loophole. . . . .F

Gun Trafficking. . . . .F

Guns in Public. . . . .F

Federal Assault Weapons Ban. . . . .F

Standing Up to the Gun Lobby. . . . .F

Leadership. . . . .F

According to the Brady Campaign, President Obama has done an unequivocally terrible job of stemming the tide of guns into our society, and controlling the ones already there. This report was issued in early 2010, but not much has changed since then as far as this issue is concerned.

[C]ritics say that the president, for all his sorrowful words after each mass killing, has not only visibly failed to address gun control, he has quietly acquiesced in a slew of national, state and local laws in recent years that have generally made it easier to buy and carry weapons.

Mostly his inaction is attributed to a lack of political gumption – some might say folly – for taking on the powerful gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association.

This excerpt comes from Chris McGreal, writing for The Guardian, in a very informative article explicitly detailing not only what legislation Obama has failed to act upon, but also what legislation he has enacted repealing gun control laws. From McGreal’s article:

Instead, since coming to power, Obama has signed laws allowing people to carry guns in national parks and failed to use his existing powers to block the import of semi-automatic weapons and clips that hold large numbers of bullets.

These are just some things he has done. A more complete list can be found here. The bottom line is, Obama has done more to repeal anti-gun laws and to pass laws enacting gun rights in his first term as president than George W. Bush did in eight years. This is not to mention that during the Obama presidency, the gun industry has been, to say the least, thriving.”

For the first time since 1993, the number of federally licensed retail gun dealers in the U.S. increased slightly in 2010 and 2011. The country added 1,167 licensed retail gun dealers, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives records. After the assault weapons ban of 1994 – now expired – the number of gun dealerships dropped annually until 2010. As of October 2012, there were 50,812 retail gun dealers – 3,303 more than in 2009.

“Business has been very good,” said Frederick Prehn, who a year ago opened a small gun store above his dentistry practice in Wausau, Wis. In the past year, Prehn has relocated twice to larger spaces and gone from one employee to eight.

Some gun store owners can’t keep shelves stocked, said Brian Jones, owner of Bullseye Shooter’s supply in Painted Post, N.Y. Jones said he opened his gun store in November 2010. In his first year, he said he sold between 600 and 700 guns. A little more than halfway through his second year, he’s already sold 700.

Ruger and Smith & Wesson represent nearly 30 percent of the U.S. gun manufacturing industry and lead the market in production of pistols and revolvers, according to government statistics. The two companies have been running production lines around the clock, hiring workers and operating at maximum capacity, said Barrett, an industry analyst who also owns Ruger stock.

Ruger’s sales have increased 86 percent since Obama took office, and Smith & Wesson’s sales have gone up nearly 44 percent, compared with 18 percent for overall national retail sales.

Barack Obama

So why has this been happening? Why has the Obama presidency been so good for the gun industry? And why the pervasive belief that Obama has been on a mission to relieve the gun-owning populace of their prized possessions when it’s obvious he hasn’t? Well, partisanship, and a general tendency that people believe what they want to believe explains the latter. As to the former, it seems to be for two reasons. The first is legislative. The small amount of aforementioned movement Obama has made on firearms during his presidency has been overwhelmingly positive for the industry, making it easier for people everywhere to buy, own, and use guns. The second reason seems to be…um…to avoid using the word “hysteria,” let us just say, “spirited conjecture.”

From Chris Field at Townhall.com:

President Obama is calling for “commonsense” gun reforms, but as a man with a long a history of acting to limit Second Amendment rights and advocating gun control who tapped an attorney general with the same ideology — and possibly the biggest gun trafficking scandal in U.S. history with his name written all over it — is the president really calling for reforms or more government control?

In the past, President Obama hasn’t been shy about expressing his views against the right to own a handgun and the right to carry concealed and his support for the reinstatement of the assault-weapons ban — more accurately understood as a ban on semiautomatic firearms. He believes the nation’s crime problems lie with gun ownership rather than criminals.

The right continues to characterize Obama as a staunch, fire-breathing, anti-gun partisan, when he’s actually been at least neutral, and at most the exact opposite. Why they characterize him this way is anyone’s guess. To my mind, it seems to be just another easy way to demagogue him, a way to rile up their base against him. And people continue to buy it, despite a total lack of founding in reality. From John Lott at FoxNews.com:

Still the administration has successfully manage to push through gun control regulations in many, less visible ways: — The Obama administration instituted a ban on importing “historic” semi-automatic rifles into the US. — In sharp contrast to the Bush administration, President Obama strongly supports the UN Arms Trade Treaty even though he knows that any such treaty are unlikely to obtain the two-thirds vote in the Senate needed for ratification. What the regulations will do is lead to severe restrictions on private gun ownership around the world.

This common argument against the UN Arms Trade Treaty is idiotic. Lott’s concern here is national sovereignty, despite the fact that the treaty only applies to international arms sales, and would not affect our domestic laws regarding guns. The inception of the Arms Trade Treaty was a UN General Assembly resolution explicitly stating that it is “the exclusive right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through constitutional protections on private ownership.” The State Department has said, regarding the UN Arms Treaty:

There will be no restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution. There will be no dilution or diminishing of sovereign control over issues involving the private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms, which must remain matters of domestic law.

Lott continues:

Yet, despite all this evidence of an anti-gun agenda, recent articles by the Associated Press and other news media paint Obama as a moderate on guns and as somebody who wants to “protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens” and merely support so-called “gun safety” measures. 

Of course, they are wrong. Unfortunately, Obama’s patient “under the radar” campaign seems to be working. He is fundamentally changing the courts and leaving them much more hostile to gun ownership. If Americans catch on, this could still be a major issue in the 2012.

A report on the Business page of NBCNews.com:

Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the powerful National Rifle Association, told a meeting of conservatives last month that the president’s gun strategy is “crystal clear,” saying that Obama wants to “get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms’ freedom, erase the Second Amendment.”

The NRA website lists a timeline of what it calls “Obama’s Anti-Gun Agenda,” including a proposed budget for next year that “cuts in half” funding for the a federal program that allows pilots to carry handguns in the cockpit.  The NRA also says Obama “wants to kill” a law that would ban government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from producing “anti-gun propaganda.”

Not true, and even if they were, all are pretty ridiculous. A proposed budget that cuts in half funding for pilots to carry guns in the cockpit? This constitutes an attack on your 2nd Amendment rights? And I’ll just let NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre’s words speak for themselves:

200px-National_Rifle_Association.svg

They’ll say gun owners — they’ll say they left them alone…In public, the president will remind us that he’s put off calls from his party to renew the old Clinton ban, that he hasn’t pushed for new gun control laws…The president will offer the Second Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he’s actually been good for the Second Amendment. But it’s a big fat stinking lie!…It’s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in our country…Before the president was even sworn into office, they met and they hatched a conspiracy of public deception to try to guarantee his re-election in 2012.

Does this even need to be characterized? Does it sound anywhere close to credible, or even lucid?

Republicans, faced with this overwhelming lack of anti-gun activity, continue their unbroken tradition of rejecting reality and promoting partisanism through fiery, reactionary, and hysterical rhetoric, led in this instance by the powerful NRA. Some have alleged that this is all part of a plot by the NRA, and is specifically intended to boost gun sales – in which case the dastardly plan has been working spectacularly – but I find that a little dubious. And pretty much equally hysterical. But decide for yourself.

For further – and to my mind pretty much conclusive – proof, we go to PolitiFact.com. They are the Pulitzer Prize-winning website known for fact-checking the statements of politicians and political organizations, as well as keeping track of promises made by President Obama and members of Congress to verify their veracity, in an thorough, authoritative, and unbiased manner. In regards to the NRA’s statement that “Barack Obama [is] coming after guns ‘under the radar,'” the NRA receives the rating denoting not only a complete absence of truth, but a claim that is actually ridiculous (according to PolitiFact) “Pants On Fire.” The same rating is given to another NRA statement, “Obama’s Ten Point Plan to ‘Change’ the Second Amendment…Ban use of firearms for home defense.” Several other NRA claims, such as “Obama’s Ten Point Plan to ‘Change’ The Second Amendment….Ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns,” are just plain False, without being outright ridiculous.

Personally, I don’t mind admitting that I have difficulty when it comes to this issue. I myself have used many guns – take a look at my picture on the About page of this blog – and own at least one, as I believe is my right to do so. I believe rights should be accorded upon the assumption that Americans will behave as responsible adults, until proven otherwise. I understand the divide on this issue, and I don’t think it’s a Republican/Democrat or conservative/liberal divide as much as it is rural/urban. In urban areas, individual gun ownership does not mean the same thing as rural, and I can understand how people who grew up in cities can be utterly perplexed by the idea that anyone would ever need to own a gun. In a city, you have the freedom to rely on other people for your wellbeing. If there’s a fire, you can rest pretty well assured that the fire department will come, as it’s supposed to. If a restaurant violates health codes, you can rest pretty well assured that the health inspector will be making a visit to shut them down, as he or she is supposed to. And if someone breaks in to your house, you can rest pretty well assured that the police will be arriving forthwith to investigate and apprehend, as they are supposed to. In a rural area, however, the nearest police station – hell, the nearest neighbor – may be forty-five minutes away. In a place like this, you are your first line of defense against the things that may threaten you. Likewise, you are your family’s first line of defense. You are your own fire department, your own health inspector, and very much your own police and security. The only thing you have to rely on is your gun in such a situation.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that coming to a better understanding of each other is the first step.

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6 comments
  1. jeremiah757 said:

    Not surprising when you think about it. The right thinks President Obama is farther left than the left does. Of course he is, relative to their position(s). Question for both sides is, how effective?

  2. Big Chairs said:

    A very enlightening post. Facts don’t lie. This is totally opposite of what the conservative right would have you believe and myself have heard about Obama’s record and agenda on gun control.

    • kipp said:

      Yeah, that is really why I wanted to write it. I hear a lot from right-wing media and my conservative friends about Obama’s supposed persecution of gun owners, and I wanted to explain how that just isn’t true. The truth is actually quite the opposite.

      And thanks.

  3. I rather believe that I have not seen a more complete, knowledgeable or intellectually challenging treatise on the gun control problem than this one. The piece is scholarly to be sure but presented in an easily understood format and I am pleased with the many nuanced potentialities for actually learning from a real thinker. Thanks for the privilege of reading this.

    • kipp said:

      Thank you very much for the kind words. I appreciate it, and I’m glad to know you got so much from the post, which is what I intended.

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