Freedomnomics

Article published Monday, June 30, 2008, at Fox News.

Reaction to D.C. Gun Ban Decision

By John R. Lott, Jr.

The Supreme Court's decision Thursday affirming that people have a right to own guns evoked all sorts of reactions. Let's just go through a few of them.

1) One of the strangest was Barack Obama's claim that the court had essentially confirmed what had been his positions all along.

Telling the FOX Business Network yesterday that he had "said consistently that I believe that the Second Amendment is an individual right, and that was the essential decision that the Supreme Court came down on." The Supreme Court struck down the DC handgun ban on the grounds that it violated an individual's right to own a gun. So has Obama consistently supported individual's rights to own guns and opposed the DC handgun ban?

Obama has taken some flack over the last week for his flip-flops on issues ranging from NAFTA to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to the public financing of campaigns, but the magnitude of this flip-flop surely adds new dimensions to the definition of hutzpah.

Last November, Obama's campaign told the Chicago Tribune that "Obama believes the DC handgun law is constitutional." After Obama's statement yesterday supporting the Supreme Court striking down the ban, Obama's campaign disowned the statement as an “inartful attempt” to characterize his position.

The problem is that he personally voiced support for the DC ban at other times. Earlier this year, he did this himself, not something that he could blame on a staffer. ABC 7's Washington, DC anchor Leon Harris asked Obama: "One other issue that's of great importance here in the district as well is gun control. You said in Idaho recently - I'm quoting here - 'I have no intention of taking away folks' guns,' but you support the D.C. handgun ban." Obama's simple response: "Right." When Harris said "And you've said that it's constitutional," Obama is clearly caught on tape nodding his head yes.

But there is more to his support of city gun bans than his statements on the DC ban. As an Associated Press described his 2004 vote on a gun control bill: "He also opposed letting people use a self-defense argument if charged with violating local handgun bans by using weapons in their homes. The bill was a reaction to a Chicago-area man who, after shooting an intruder, was charged with a handgun violation."

The notion that Obama has consistently believed that there is an individual right to own guns is also hard to fathom. Here is politician who supported a ban on handguns in 1996, who supported a ban on the sale of all semi-automatic guns in 1998 (a ban that would encompass the vast majority of guns sold in the US), who advocated in 2004 banning gun sales within 5 miles of a school or park (essentially a ban on virtually all gun stores), as well as worked in other ways to support bans.

With new legal cases being filed against Chicago’s gun ban this past week, somebody in the media is going to eventually have to ask Obama why he not only never spoken out against Chicago’s ban, he actively supported it. As a state senator, why did Obama vote against a popular bi-partisan bill that would have prohibited prosecution of otherwise law-abiding citizens for violating local gun prohibition ordinances in Illinois if the gun was used to stop a home invasion by violent criminals.

Also, how will Obama reconcile his new position with the fact that all the members of the Supreme Court whom he reveres and whom his appointees would be like voted that the Second Amendment is not an individual right? These justices went even farther and argued that even if the Amendment guaranteed such a right, DC’s ban does not infringe people’s rights to own guns. Wouldn’t his nominees to the Supreme Court vote to reverse this close 5-to-4 decision by the court?

2) Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daily, whose city had a lawsuit similar to the case just decided in DC filed against it yesterday, attacked the Supreme Court's decision as favoring those with power. Daily claimed: "It is frighting that America loves guns. And to me, I think that this decision really places those who are rich and those who are in power will always feel safe. Those who do not have the power do not feel safe." But, ironically, as Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote just last week there are two types of people who are currently allowed to have handguns in Chicago, "The criminals. And the politicians. . . . In Chicago, our politicians often go around surrounded by armed bodyguards on the city payroll. Or they walk our streets strapped. Or they know a guy who knows a guy in some suburb, and they become deputized peace officers so they can carry. . . ."

Mayor Daily has his armed bodyguards. Other politicians either have guards or carry guns themselves. Apparently, these politicians understand how useful guns are at providing protection when it comes to their own safety. But it is not the powerless people, who live in the high crime south side of Chicago, who get the permission to have a gun. Nor is the taxi cab driver, who is mandated to pick up fares no matter how dangerous they look or risk losing their license.

3) District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty had his own prediction: "More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence."

But the gun ban hardly improved DC's crime rates when the ban was adopted. The ban went into effect in early 1977, but since it started there is only one year (1985) when D.C.'s murder rate fell below what it was in 1976. But the murder rate also rose dramatically relative to other cities. In the 29 years we have data after the ban, D.C.'s murder rate ranked first or second among the largest 50 cities for 15 years. In another four years, it ranked fourth.

Will DC's crime rates now soar? Unless DC's police department were to crumble, the opposite is more likely to occur. We have seen the same phenomenon occur when opponents of right-to-carry laws claimed over and over again that there would be shootouts when new state laws were passed. Of course, their fears were never justified. Gun control proponents have more at stake with the Supreme Court's decision than just the loss of the ability to ban guns. They also risk losing their credibility.

*John Lott is the author of Freedomnomics and a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland.

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