Obama, guns and self-defense

Barack Obama has recently been calling himself a strong defender of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, but Hale Demarr—an Illinois man who got in a ton of legal trouble after he shot a home invader--might disagree with that.

Demarr lived in the tony Chicago suburb of Wilmette, which banned ownership of handguns, even if kept in the home and used only for self defense. But in December 2003, when a man broke into his house, Demarr used a pistol to shoot him.

Even though the man was inside Demarr’s home and trying to rob him, Demarr was charged by local police with violating the handgun ban.

That, of course, produced much outrage. Within a few months, the Illinois state Senate took up a bill that would have granted an individual an “affirmative defense,” or a legal justification for violating local gun restrictions if they were acting in self-defense.

But when the legislation came up for a vote in the Senate, Obama was one of 20 who voted against it—and homeowners like Demarr who used guns in self defense. Thirty-eight state senators voted “aye,” and the bill passed the state senate. 

By May, an amendment from the Illinois House added the right of an individual to violate local ordinances banning handguns “when on his or her land or in his or her abode or fixed place of business.”  That version went back to the Senate, and Obama voted against the bill a second time in its amended form, though it passed the Senate again 41 to 16.

In August, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed the bill, but in November, both the Illinois Senate and House  overwhelmingly voted to overturn his veto.  Obama was not recorded as being present the day the veto came up for a vote in the Senate.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Republican Sen. Dan Rutherford, told ABC News' Howard Rosenberg, “I remember this bill as being pretty logically cut-and-dry.  It seems to be a fundamental right of an American to protect their lives and home as outlined by the (U.S.) Constitution.  Barack’s vote did not support an individual’s right to protect their home and family in a community that prohibited it.”

Rutherford went on to say he was pleased by the Supreme Court’s ruling today. “It somewhat substantiates what Illinois did a number of years ago.”

In recent days, an Obama spokesman tried to distance the senator from a Chicago Tribune article last year that quoted one of his aides saying, "Obama believes the DC handgun law is constitutional."  Recently, Obama has tried to sidestep the question of whether the ban violates the Second Amendment.  He told ABC's Charles Gibson during a debate in April, "Well, Charlie, I confess I obviously haven't listened to the briefs and looked at all the evidence."

Obama issued a statement today saying, "I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures.  The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view, and while it ruled that the D.C. gun ban went too far, Justice Scalia himself acknowledged that this right is not absolute and subject to reasonable regulations enacted by local communities to keep their streets safe."   

Four years ago, Obama apparently believed that Wilmette's local ordinance banning handguns was an example of a "reasonable regulation."

You can follow the Illinois legislative history of the bill by clicking here.

UPDATE: Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Obama voted against the state-wide self-defense law because he believed municipalities should be able to pass handgun bans if they thought the laws were necessary.

"Obama said at the time that he voted that way because he believed that local communities had the right to enact common sense gun laws, and did not believe that the Illinois legislature should preempt those local decisions," Burton said. "The Supreme Court has now provided guidance on how far those local communities can go."

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