ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: In responding to the Supreme Court’s high-profile ruling on the D.C. gun ban, Sen. Barack Obama is attempting to find safe political ground on an explosive issue for Democrats.
Obama, D-Ill., issued a carefully crafted statement that avoided taking a firm position on the gun-control measure tossed out by the Supreme Court, despite previous indications that he supported Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban.
Instead, Obama focused on a part of the court opinion that is less politically contentious: The notion that some gun-control laws are acceptable under the Second Amendment.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Obama expressed measured support for the high court’s ruling -- but quickly added that he still believes that municipalities should have the ability to craft their own gun-control laws.
“It looks to me that the D.C. handgun ban overshot the runway, that it went beyond constitutional limits,” Obama said. “But it doesn’t mean that local communities can’t, you know, pass background checks, that they can’t make sure that they’re tracing guns that have been used in crimes to find out where they got them from. So there’s still room for us to, I think, have some common-sense gun laws that are also compatible with the Second Amendment.”
Obama’s calibrated reaction comes as he seeks to expand the electoral map by reaching out to voters in traditionally Republican -- and gun-friendly -- states.
While his position could frustrate GOP efforts to paint Obama as a knee-jerk liberal, he risks a backlash among some Democrats who support stricter gun control. Some of those voters have expressed concern with Obama’s position on other matters in recent weeks, including NAFTA and a terrorist-surveillance bill now before the Senate.
And Obama’s careful approach could fuel Republican charges that he’s unwilling to take politically difficult stands.
“It's one in a long series of reversals of positions,” Sen. John McCain said Thursday, “whether it be on his pledge on public financing or his position on the Second Amendment.”
Obama is still not taking a position on the gun ban in his hometown of Chicago, his spokesman tells ABC News. And his statement on Thursday on the D.C. gun ban comes despite previous suggestions that he supported it.
In a February interview, Obama did not dispute an interviewer’s characterization of his “support [for] the D.C. handgun ban.” As WJLA-TV’s Leon Harris asked him that question, Obama nodded and seemed to indicate his agreement as he launched into his response.
“I think it’s important for us to recognize that we’ve got a tradition of handgun ownership and gun ownership generally,” Obama said in February. “We also have a violence on the streets that is the result of illegal handgun usage. And so I think there is nothing wrong with a community saying we are going to take those illegal handguns off the streets, we are going to trace more effectively how these guns are ending up on the streets, to unscrupulous gun dealers, who oftentimes are selling to straw purchasers.”
In addition, in November, the Chicago Tribune quoted the Obama campaign as saying, “Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional.”
On Thursday, the Obama campaign told ABC that the statement was “inartful” and does not fully explain Obama’s “consistent position.”
Asked about the Tribune report Thursday, Obama told a reporter from WJET-TV in Erie, Pa., that he did not and does not support the now-discarded D.C. gun ban.
“I don’t know what my aide said but I’ve been very consistent, I teach constitutional law," Obama said. “What I said was that I believe [the] Second Amendment as being an individual right and have said that consistently. I also think that individual right is constrained by the rights of the community to maintain issues with public safety. I don’t think those two principles are contradictory and in fact what I’ve been saying consistently is what the Supreme Court essentially said today.”