DURYEA, Pa.--At a campaign event here Friday, Barack Obama ran headlong into the one of the issues that dogs him in this battleground state.
“There are rumors going around that . . . you’re going to take away our guns,” said Joan O’Neil, a resident of tiny Susquehanna in northeastern Pennsylvania, a big-time area for hunting.
This gun issue that Obama has tried to deftly navigate throughout this long campaign and one that damaged him here in his primary fight with Hillary Clinton. And it’s one that could do even him even further harm in the general election, as he is matched against a pro-gun ticket that includes a vice-presidential nominee who has been photographed firing an assault rifle.
And indeed, several of the dozens of plant workers invited to Obama’s economic “town hall” here in this town outside of Scranton, Pa. nodded as the question was asked. Pennsylvania has the highest per capita rate of National Rifle Association members in the nation.
“I believe in the Second Amendment, and if you are a law-abiding gun owner you have nothing to fear from an Obama administration,” Obama said. “This has been peddled again and again. Here’s what I believe: The Second Amendment is an indvidual right. . . people have the right to bear arms. But I also believe there is nothing wrong with some common-sense gun safety measures.”
GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, now likely the most famous moose-hunter in the country, mocked Obama’s stance on guns during her nomination speech Wednesday, when she accused him of talking “one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco,” — a reference to Obama’s now infamous comment about some people in America who “cling to guns or religion.”
As examples, Obama listed background checks and providing cities with federal gun trace data that would allow them to go after dealers that sell guns illegally. (Currently, by an act of Congress, that data is kept confidential.) He did not mention banning assault weapons, but Obama has expressed support for such a ban in the past.
“That kind of thing is common sense and has nothing to do with the guy who has got his rifle and wants to go hunting,” Obama said. “Now the NRA — I’ll be honest and I’m sure there are NRA members here — their general attitude is that we don’t want anything, and if you even breathe the words ‘gun control’ or ‘gun safety’ then you must want to take away everybody’s guns. Well, that’s just not true.”
Obama has said that he supports the Supreme Court decision last June that held the Second Amendment establishes an individual right to own a firearm, although the full parameters of that ruling have yet to be explored. The ruling invalidated Washington, D.C.’s total ban on handgun ownership and has jeopardized other bans, including one in Chicago. Obama’s campaign has not said whether he supports overturning the Chicago handgun ban, which is strongly backed by the city’s mayor, Richard Daley.
At the campaign event Friday, Obama said that there are “two realities about guns” in the United States, one including lawful gun owners, hunters, and sportsmen and a second that involves the flow of illegal handguns and automatic weapons into cities such as Philadelphia, where they are used by “teenage gang-bangers.”
“Surely, we can come up with a system that protects lawful gun-owners, but at the same time tries to do something about kids getting shot,” he said. “That is, I think, the job of the president is to reconcile this tradition of gun ownership in this country, with some basic public safety concerns.
“The bottom line is this: You got a rifle, you got a shotgun, you got a gun in your house, I’m not taking it away,” Obama said. “They can keep on talking about it, but it’s just not true.”
In the end, Obama told the group, that if voters believe he can help them on economic issues such as health care, energy and education, “this can’t be the reason not to vote for me. This can’t be the reason not to vote. Your guns, we’re not going to mess with them.”
O’Neil said afterward that being able to keep their guns for hunting was the biggest concern residents in her town have about Obama. “The important thing is that people understand that they can keep their guns and they can use their guns,” she said.