Bearing arms against a flood of troubles: Obama 1; Clinton 0
The efforts of Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to differentiate themselves on the issue of gun ownership has been, like so many of their efforts to differentiate themselves, a kind of off-key opera buffa. Does Obama support individual ownership or a universal ban? Does Clinton really believe law-abiding citizens should be allowed to own guns? Do either of them believe the right of self-defense is anything but a quaint conceit? Are Second Amendment stalwarts right to view this as a choice between one gun grabber and another?
Richard Feldman, author of Ricochet; Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist, hips us to an obscure but telling difference in how the two candidates view these issues. It involves law-abiding citizens, shades into self-defense in its most elemental form and arguably reveals a great deal about how the two view the use of force — that is, the use of force against law-abiding citizens by the state. And there's a clear distinction.
I give you Vitter Amdendment No. 4615, which was voted on in the U.S. Senate at 6:13 PM on July 13, 2006. Here's the text:
To prohibit the confiscation of a firearm during an emergency or major disaster if the possession of such firearm is not prohibited under Federal or State law.
The amendment, which was attached to a Homeland Security appropriations package, was approved 84-16. The bill itself was signed into law in October 2006.
If the confiscation issue seems recondite, set your wayback machine to the post-Hurricane Katrina period, when wild and largely inaccurate tales of disaster-area pillage gave way to revelations about how incompetent police chief Eddie Compass and other authorities eventually went about pacifying the Big Easy. In particular, some footage of cops manhandling Patty Konie — an elderly resident seen holding (by the barrel) a revolver that looked like something that would have blown up in Wild Bill Hickock's tiny hands — provided a shock even to those who don't normally get excited about such matters.
This was the context in which the Vitter amendment was introduced. Here is how the Democratic front-runners voted:
Clinton (D-NY), Nay
Obama (D-IL), Yea
Neither campaign has responded to my request for more information on their votes and decision-making processes. Will update if they do.
There's an old tension here between individual rights and the need to establish (by force) police supremacy in a chaotic and dangerous situation. That question dates back to frontier times, or at least to George Romero's The Crazies, and it's not one we can answer here. But post-Katrina weapons confiscation did provide some pretty clear choices: If you really think legally owned handguns were degrading, or in any other way influencing, the security situation in New Orleans in 2005, you've got your ideology where your common sense ought to be. And if you don't believe in the right to bear arms to protect your life and home during a days-long period when the authorities are nowhere to be seen, well, how can you say you believe in that right at all?