Monday, February 4, 2008

Obama and Gun Control

Nick Gillespie discusses a Clayton Cramer post on Obama and gun control. Cramer views Obama as an anti-gun radical (although their voting records show that Hillary is far, far worse).

My take, left as a comment to Gillespie's post, is below. Bottom line: Obama is clearly an anti-gun Democrat; but I also don't think significant gun control is likely in the next Administration to the extent it is a wedge issue that requires tons of political capital.

The key question here is:"How much of a role will gun rights play in the election?" The answer: not much, nor should they. Violent crime in this country is extremely low right now compared with the 80's and early 90's. The so-called "assault weapons" ban has been expired for well over 3 years and (shockingly!) there has been no sudden surge of people being bayoneted to death with scary looking rifles.

Meanwhile, the economy is going to shit, we're spending hundreds of billions on a war of choice, health care costs have gone through the roof (because our current system has so many market distortions), and we're fighting a massive GWOT in which the executive branch has decided the Constitution is an obstacle to be overcome rather than a road map to success. I could go on...Right now, gun control is probably not on the top 100 list of things to do for the next President. Even if it were, it's worth remembering that any such legislation would need to get through two houses of Congress. Gun control is also a wedge issue that requires a lot of political capital to force through; with so many higher priorities, an incoming President isn't going to be able to waste that capital on gun control. The cost of that capital will be even higher if the SCOTUS rules that gun ownership is an individual right, and only slightly less in the event SCOTUS finds only a collective right.

While I can see candidates discussing gun control on the campaign trail, and the eventual winner even mentioning it in their initial address to Congress, I have a hard time seeing any of them actually spending political capital to force significant gun control through before the 2012 elections.

The most likely way for gun control to happen under the next President is actually to elect John McCain. McCain has a long history of supporting fairly harsh gun control measures; there is also a good chance he will only be a one-term President due to his age. Combined with the fact that he is also a Republican, this means he would have to spend much less political capital for gun control than any of the other candidates.

More reactions at memeorandum.