A spate of gun violence has beset the United States ahead of the November election – including shootings at New York's Empire State Building; an Aurora, Colo., theater; and an Oak Creek, Wis., Sikh temple – raising the perennial question about how effectively America regulates the 300 million-plus guns in its collective gun cabinet. Yet neither presidential candidate is likely to hoist his own complicated record on gun regulation as a rallying cry.
Weighing the two candidates’ views on the Second Amendment, the tone that comes across is surprisingly similar – that while the “right to bear arms” is foundational, it is hardly absolute.
Despite the perception is that Mr. Obama is anti-gun rights (gun shop owners say fear of his policies drives strong gun sales), he has repeatedly reaffirmed the right to bear arms. Indeed, the only gun-control laws he has signed as president have been to expand gun rights – allowing guns on national park lands and Amtrak trains. He also said this year that “hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage.”
He does not, however, believe that gun rights should be unrestricted. “The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than they are for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals," Obama declared at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Former Massachusetts Governor Romney has taken the same line in the past, especially when he was the Republican executive of a Democratic state. “There’s no question I support Second Amendment rights, but I also support an assault weapon ban,” he said in 2007, referring to his signing of a Massachusetts assault-weapons ban in 2004.
But Romney has made more categorical statements in favor of gun rights in recent years. During the presidential campaign he has said he would sign no new gun control laws as president, out of respect for the Second Amendment.
“I do support the right of individuals to bear arms, whether for hunting purposes or for protection purposes or any other reasons,” he said at the 2008 presidential debate in Boca Raton, Fla. “That’s the right that people have.”
Both candidates' stances seem to reflect political realism. A Pew poll in April found that 55 percent of independent voters believe “it is more important to protect gun ownership than to control guns.” Only 40 percent said passing new gun-control laws was more important. What’s more, some political analysts have said it amounts to political suicide to back gun control in key battleground states like Colorado.
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