Barack Obama’s victory in the US election has panicked the gun lobby there, which fears the next four years will be a battle for gun rights.
While gun rights was never a front-line election issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, the US National Rifle Association ran a strident election campaign against Obama, claiming this election was vital in the defence of US Constitutional protections of firearm ownership.
Many firearm owners believe the US President will now use his second term to crack down on firearm ownership, leaving a legacy of gun control once his presidency is over.
“An anti-gun Supreme Court, a UN Arms Trade Treaty, and a sweeping gun ban aren’t just a possibility in a second Obama term,” NRA boss Wayne LaPierre said a week before Americans went to the polls. “They’re a near certainty.”
That remains to be seen, of course, but Obama and many in his administration have previously called for tougher gun laws, including a ban on semi-automatic firearms, particularly guns like the AR-15 – which the anti-gun lobby misleadingly labels ‘assault weapons’.
Immediately after the election, the Obama camp confirmed support for the controversial UN Arms Trade Treaty, which ostensibly aims to prevent the sale of military weapons to rebel organisations, criminal gangs and regimes that use them against their populations.
However, it will also cover civilian sporting firearms, intends to heavily restrict semi-automatics and may result in higher prices for sporting guns. The ATT would also require all firearms to be registered, something we already see here in Australia but it is generally not done in the US.
The US Constitution’s Second Amendment famously spells out the right of the nation’s citizens to “bear arms”, but the rather vague statement is open to legal interpretation and is constantly being debated in court cases.
Obama has an opportunity to appoint judges with what the gun lobby would call anti-gun attitudes, which can certainly lead to very different interpretations of the limits that can be imposed on the Second Amendment.
There is still bitter debate and accusations going on over the failed Fast and Furious ‘gun-walking’ operation in which US government agents encouraged the smuggling of guns to Mexican drug cartels. Controversy over this went all the way up to US Attorney Eric Holder, who was given direct protection by the President.
Meanwhile, gun laws are still primarily a state issue in the US, and most states have been relaxing their laws over the past few years.
Legalised carriage of firearms is now much more common under concealed-carry laws, while open-carry laws are also making headway, and statistics gathered over many years are providing support for those who argue guns reduce crime rates.
Firearms are continuing to grow in popularity in the US, too, as sales hit record levels and ownership steadily increases.
This increase in gun sales and ownership has, in fact, been the great irony of Obama’s presidency so far: this ‘anti-gun’ leader has presided over a boom time for the nation’s large firearm industry. More than a few industry stalwarts have quietly admitted Obama has been the best thing to happen to them.
Anecdotal reports indicated gun shops were doing a roaring trade after Obama’s victory, the theory being that people are buying now before the guns are outlawed.
If President Obama does launch an attack on gun ownership in the US, he will certainly have a battle on his hands, but the whole thing may prove to be a pre-election storm that fizzles to nothing as the economy, Afghanistan and other issues continue to dominate.
That’s certainly what the gun lobby would like to see happen, but groups like the NRA are not going to sit back and keep their fingers crossed while Obama has the power to appoint the right judges, use his powers of executive order and enlist the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to make umbrella rulings on firearm legalities.