To hear some gun rights activists tell it, President Barack Obama wants to take away your guns and, any minute now, jack-booted federal agents could knock on your front door to collect them.
Such predictions started during the 2008 campaign. “Obama would be the most anti-gun President in American history,” screamed a banner at the National Rifle Association’s GunBanObama.com. It got so bad that Obama even had to reassure voters he wouldn’t take away their guns. Even after the election, gun sales boomed.
You’d expect a President so opposed by many gun rights groups to get high praise from gun control advocates since he took office. But advocates like those from the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence are far from satisfied with the progress on gun control being made in this administration.“I think the Obama administration has been loathe to act on anything — or say anything — related to guns,” Chad Ramsey of the Brady Campaign told TPMMuckraker. “The administration has said almost nothing about the gun issue since Obama took office.”
Despite several attempts last week, TPMMuckraker was unable to get a White House official to respond to requests for comment about their priorities on gun control. Likewise, the Brady Campaign has tried to have a number of meetings with Obama administration officials, but “hasn’t had much luck,” Ramsey said.
The attacks on Obama for his gun policies from gun rights groups and conservative media figures have persisted, though they’ve gotten more obscure. Last month, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms said that Obama’s appointment of an alternate representative to the United Nations “has removed any doubt about the Obama administration’s intentions regarding global gun control initiatives,” because the appointee was a founding member of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Meanwhile, Obama has signed legislation allowing guns in national parks and allowing guns to be carried on luggage on Amtrak trains — and the administration hasn’t taken any action to close the gun show loophole or reinstate the assault weapons ban.
“The notion that ‘Obama is coming after your guns’ is pretty laughable at this point,” Ramsey said. His group has issued a report card flunking Obama on seven of its important issues, though he noted that it’s not just the Obama administration at fault: Congress has “made it clear that they don’t want to deal with anything on guns,” he said.
Even gun rights groups can’t point to concrete actions taken by the Obama administration against gun rights.
“Let’s be honest, the Democrats have shied away from the gun issue for a number of years,” Dave Workman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms told TPMMuckraker.
But Workman said that he believes — along with many others in the gun rights community — that Obama and the Democrats are just holding back because of the political reality, and will go after guns the first chance that they get.
“The sentiment that is widespread out here though is that if the Democrats maintain control of Congress at the midterms, they’re going to take the gloves off and go after gun control,” Workman said. “Even if they lose, there’s the possibility that they may bring up some measures because they believe that they wouldn’t have an opportunity again, maybe in our lifetime, to adopt some of these things that are really pet measures of the hard-core, hard-left, anti-gun leadership in the House of Representatives right now.”
Gun rights activists also focus on the appointment of officials who they say hold anti-gun views, like Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Both Republican and Tea Party candidates have gotten in on the act. “Don’t doubt for a minute that, if they thought they could get away with it, they would ban guns and ban ammunition and gut the Second Amendment,” Sarah Palin told the NRA. Christine O’Donnell was endorsed by a group called Sportsmen for O’Donnell, which warned that officials, Democrats in particular, were working to “restrict the right to keep and bear arms as protected by the Second Amendment.” Rand Paul said that Democrats want favor greater regulation of firearms. “People sense it viscerally and they know it,” he said at a machine gun festival last weekend.
Ramsey says it’s all just fear-mongering to raise money.
“I think that they’ve found that the fear of the Obama administration — we’ve seen this in the Tea Party movement as well — the fear brings out a certain segment of the population. I think that the NRA is able to raise money on this, Gun Owners of America is able to raise money off this. They always like to raise the specter of some sort of effort to take over your guns.”
Gun rights groups don’t buy that the pro-gun legislation Obama signed indicates he’s not as anti-gun as they originally suspected.
“Any legislation that has been signed by Mr. Obama that has been pro-gun has been signed because he was in between a rock and a hard place,” says Workman. “The pro-gun stuff was typically a rider on some other piece of legislation that he desperately wanted to put into law, but since he doesn’t have a line item veto, it was either all or nothing. They essentially bit the bullet, for lack of a better term.”
The NRA has also been supporting Democrats who vote their way, and in the process has become a powerful lobbying force. A recent example is the NRA’s success in getting an exemption carved out in a campaign finance overhaul bill that allows it to refrain from disclosing its donors.
“They’ve won, and they’ve been winning for the past 10 years,” Jerry Naziano, a former top ATF official, told TPMMuckraker. “Both the Republicans and the Democrats are scared to death of the gun lobby.”
Now the NRA is supporting one piece of legislation that gun control advocates say would weaken the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) — the same agency which doesn’t have a permanent chief 21 months into the Obama administration.
“I do think the failure to nominate an ATF director is directly related to their desire to not say anything about guns, and I think that’s because they’re worried about any political fights with the NRA,” Ramsey said.
“Morale would certainly improve at ATF if they had a permanent director,” Mike Bouchard, President of the ATF Association, told TPMMuckraker. “It’s obviously an underfunded agency, and not having an permanent director kind of gives the people that work there a feeling of ‘what are your priorities here?'”
The legislation that several former ATF officials oppose, dubbed the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act,” would minimize ATF’s authority, say gun control advocates. NRA officials didn’t get back to TPMMuckraker last week.
Hearings for the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee were delayed, so there won’t be any action until at least after midterm elections. But according to the Brady Campaign, both Justice Department and ATF officials were prepared to say bad things about the legislation — marking the first time the Obama administration has taken a public position against the gun lobby, they said. A DOJ spokeswoman said the Department hasn’t provided an official position on legislation.
ATF’s power has been considerably weakened in the past several years, say former officials. A top Justice Department official gave the FBI the lead role in reacting to explosives incidents and the ATF-lead “Project Gunrunner” was found to have “significant weaknesses,” according to a forthcoming Inspector General report.
Despite the lack of progress on gun control legislation, one of the Senate’s top gun control advocates, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), is holding out hope on reforms with bipartisan support.
“I remain focused on common-sense reforms that everyone, regardless of party, should be able to agree on,” Lautenberg said in a statement to TPMMuckraker. “My legislation to close the Terror Gap and the gun show loophole would keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and strengthen our homeland security. These are safety measures that even NRA members overwhelmingly support, and they should move through Congress with bipartisan support,” Lautenberg said.
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