The Nation's Pulse

The Second Amendment Shuffle

The Bill of Rights is above Barack's pay grade.

By 10.31.08

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Less than a week ago, before my nine-year-old daughter scampered down a school hallway and into her classroom, I passed a BB rifle to her through my car window. Neither one of us was accosted by security guards, reported to emergency system operators, or met with fearful stares from the teachers helping children open car doors that morning.

I'd like to think that the handful of people who witnessed our exchange know the difference between a BB gun and a so-called "assault rifle," but I must admit that their collective poise had more to do with remembering an assignment to re-enact the Battle of the Alamo on the playground than anything else.

An intrepid fourth-grade teacher trying to make the last exploits of Jim Bowie, Davey Crockett, and William Travis more vivid for children with few ties to Texas had asked her students to bring toy weapons to school. As a "teachable moment," the re-enactment was a rousing success. Jane couldn't wait to tell me afterward that she was "the last American alive, even though we all had to die." She also reported that 200 Alamo defenders had fought 6,000 attackers, and when she switched to the Mexican side and got "shot," she died exclaiming "Ay, caramba!" That she learned that expression from Bart Simpson rather than from her Mexican uncles, and that the re-enactment lacked the solemnity of a Ken Burns documentary, are trifles I'm willing to overlook.

He who has minions to run background checks on plumbers who question his tax policy would not be as sanguine about playacting military history. Worse, in the opinion of those coastal Democrats who think the world of Barack Obama, I accelerated a slide into redneck culture that same night, by taking my ten-year-old son to a Scout troop meeting where boys just a little older than he were excitedly planning a trip to a shooting range.

LIKE THE TEENS and 'tweens who have anchored American literature from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn up through Bertrand R. Brinley's Mad Scientists' Club, Richard Bradford's Red Sky at Morning, and Homer Hickam's Rocket Boys (October Sky), these Boy Scouts were dazzled by the chance to earn merit badges for demonstrating proficiency with rifles and shotguns.

There are good reasons to believe that the Second Amendment does not get a comparable welcome from anyone in the Obama household. Say what you want about the virtues of the NRA or the Appleseed Project, but a lawyer irritated by the free speech provisions in the First Amendment cannot be expected to embrace the "shall not be infringed" language of the Second Amendment, either.

Certainly Obama made a point of saying that "if you have a gun in your house, I'm not taking it." He also let it be known that he agreed with the Supreme Court's finding in District of Columbia et al. v. Heller. Like a majority of the justices in that case, Obama now affirms that the right to bear arms applies to individuals.

Yet those head fakes toward the political center remain unconvincing. Obama still leaves the impression that he thinks of the Second Amendment as an embarrassment, rather than as the earthly linchpin of everything else in the Bill of Rights. His gun views are closer to those of folk singer Cheryl Wheeler than to the gun views of Joe the Plumber, Todd the Snow Machine Racer, and Charlton the late Actor.

Wheeler, long a staple of the acoustic music scene in the northeast, smacks gun culture around in ways that would amuse even "seven Spanish angels at the altar of the Son, who were praying for the lovers in the Valley of the Gun." She can often be counted on to shift gears in her live sets by launching into a look at how bitter gun-clingers prepare for a road trip.

The Wheeler song I'm thinking of depends on the image of a family vehicle idling in some driveway while a matriarch offers sage advice to relatives taking a last look around their property. When the song was written, the matriarch was probably modeled on Irene "Granny Clampett" Ryan of The Beverly Hillbillies. These days, the lyrics fit Sarah Palin. The advice that Wheeler belts out with all the toe-tapping sarcasm she can muster? "Don't forget the guns; you know exactly what I mean. Bring the pistol; bring the Uzi, and the old AR-15. We don't look for trouble, but, by golly, if we're in it, it's nice to know we're free to blow nine hundred rounds a minute!"

SAY ONE THING for songwriter Wheeler: even being satirical, she understands the concept of defensive gun use. The same cannot be said for Barack Obama, whose "Obama for America" website confines discussion of gun issues to a "Plan to Support the Rights and Traditions of Sportsmen." The plan evinces a desire to "protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use guns," but ignores substantive Second Amendment discussion to focus on things like the conserving wetlands and providing unspecified tax incentives for conservation easements on private land.

Attempts to paint Obama as a groupie for a band called Bill Ayers and the Unrepentant Socialists have educated conservatives to some of what this particular community organizer did for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and the Woods Foundation, but his eight-year affiliation with the Joyce Foundation remains relatively unknown. In an open letter released October 15, gun rights lobbyist and Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson writes that "in all my years in the Capitol I have never met a legislator who harbors more contempt for the law-abiding firearm owner than does Barack Obama."

As a board member of the Joyce Foundation between 1994 and 2002, Pearson writes, "Barack Obama wrote checks for tens of millions of dollars to extremist gun control organizations such as the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence and the Violence Policy Center."

A story by reporter Kenneth P. Vogel supports Pearson's claims, confirming that recipients of Joyce Foundation "gun violence" grants totaling $21 million in the Obama years included groups that "funded legal scholarship advancing the theory that the Second Amendment does not protect individual gun owners' rights," as well as "two groups that advocated handgun bans."

Combine that history with Obama's ill-considered fondness for judges who demonstrate empathy above all else, and his cockamamie idea that strict adherence to limited government is a flaw in the Constitution, and what you have might be the perfect rebuttal to any campaign operatives trying to waste your time with last-minute canvassing for the Democratic ticket, namely, "this conversation isn't helping my kids."

If you're feeling puckish, you might also voice support for concealed-carry laws, or ask why so much of the Bill of Rights seems to be above Barack Obama's pay grade.

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About the Author

Patrick O'Hannigan is a writer in North Carolina.