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Barack Obama gets a blunt question about guns

September 5, 2008 | 12:17 pm

Barack Obama wanted to talk about the economy today as he campaigned in Pennsylvania, especially in light of the new government report showing unemployment increasing to 6.1% in August. Democrat Barack Obama on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania

But gun rights, it appears, is an issue Obama can’t avoid in the Keystone State.

It was an issue that plagued him in his primary battle there with Hillary Clinton because of his comment about "bitter" small-town Americans clinging to guns and other things.

And campaigning today near Scranton (this campaign's "in" city), the Democrat was asked whether -- as some foes keep insisting -- he would take guns away if elected president.

The Times' Noam Levey was on the scene at a factory in Duryea, and he reports that Obama fiercely denied any such intention, and then explained his position:

This has been peddled again and again. Here’s what I believe: that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right and it means something -- that people have a right to bear arms.

What I also believe is that there is nothing wrong with some common sense gun safety measures. For example, that we should have strong background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, to keep them out of the hands of the mentally disabled. We should have mechanisms to trace guns that are used in crimes back to the gun dealers that sold them to shut down supplies of illegal guns.

That kind of thing is common sense, and it has nothing to do with the guy who has got his rifle and wants to go hunting.”

But Obama had some choice words for the National Rifle Assn., which has been hammering him for months in its publications and plans a major ad campaign opposing him this fall:

Their general attitude is ... if you even breathe the word gun control or gun safety, then you must want to take away everybody’s guns. Well, that’s just not true.

But what we have to understand is that there are two realities about guns in this country. There’s the reality of people who are lawfully and safely using guns for hunting and skeet shooting and protecting their families. And you’ve got illegal handguns being dumped in Philadelphia, in the hands of teenage gang-bangers and drug dealers who are wreaking havoc and killing people. And 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.

Many have thought so in the past. But so far, as Obama well knows, that's proved a difficult challenge.

-- Don Frederick

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