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Sotomayor hearings: For guns or against?

July 15, 2009 |  8:39 am

Coburn2

In a prickly exchange over gun control, Sen. Tom Coburn tried hard to get Sonia Sotomayor to explain what she actually thinks about the right to bear arms. “As a citizen of this country do you believe ... I have a right to personal self-defense?” he asked her.

Sotomayor said she couldn’t think of a Supreme Court case that had addressed the issue in that language. “Is there a constitutional right to self-defense?” she asked. “ I can’t think of one. I could be wrong.”

The Oklahoma Republican said he didn’t want to know if there was a legal precedent that would answer his question -- he wanted to know Sotomayor’s personal opinion.

She paused. “That is sort of an abstract question,” she said. “I don’t --"

“Well that’s what the American people want to hear,” Coburn said. Americans don’t want legalese from “bright legal minds,” he said. “They want to know if they can defend themselves in their homes.”

Sotomayor paused and then apologized. “I know it’s difficult to deal with someone who is a judge,” she said. “Let me try to address what you’re saying in the context that I can, OK?”

She went on to explain a hypothetical case – and the way she’d interpret it under New York law (the state whose law she knows best). The state allows someone to defend themselves if they fear an imminent threat. Let’s say, she told the senator, that Coburn threatened her and then she went home, got a gun and shot him.

“You’d have a lot of explaining to do!” Coburn said.

“I’d be in a lot of trouble then,” she said, laughing, before explaining that the scenario would not fall under the definition of self-defense in New York state. Why? If she had time to go home and get a gun, the threat was not imminent.

Before moving on to a question about Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Coburn excused Sotomayor’s reluctance to offer up her personal opinion.

“Doctors think like doctors, lawyers think like lawyers,” he said. “And judges think like judges.”

-- Kate Linthicum

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Photo: Sen. Tom Coburn in a tense exchange with high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.  Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

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