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In Defense of Self-Defense

Only hours after Barack Obama was elected president on Nov. 4, Florida gun-dealers were swamped with hungry gun-owners trying to get guns before the government does. According to newspaper reports, fears that President-elect Obama planned to ban certain firearms had fueled a frenzy for assault weapons-AR-15s and AK-47s-and other weapons with high-capacity magazines.

There's no question Obama favors tighter restrictions on individual gun ownership. But politically, it's irrational to think that the new president will try to pry guns from the hands of the average American gun enthusiast, says the top gun control researcher in the country.

The new president has more pressing concerns, said Gary Kleck, FSU professor in criminology and criminal justice, and pushing strict gun controls would make it hard for Obama to hold coalitions together to address big issues like the nations tanking economy.

"There's no doubt he's strongly pro-control," said Gary Kleck, FSU criminologist. "But...it's not realistic in light of his clear need to build a coalition. It would be like a designed, coalition-destroying initiative to restore the assault weapons ban."

Obama worked hard during his campaign to reassure uneasy gun owners, telling his audiences that he supports an individual's right to bear arms. According to a white paper on Obama's campaign web site, "He will protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use firearms…for hunting and target shooting." Pressed to clarify his stance during an April 2008 debate in Philadelphia, Obama told ABC News anchor Charles Gibson that he "never favored an all-out ban on handguns" but rather common-sense safety measures that keep "illegal guns" off the streets.

As a senator, Obama supported measures to ban assault weapons and a limit on an individual's handgun purchases to one a month. While gun control was not a key issue in the presidential race, the NRA advertised Obama's gun-control voting record, saying he would make "the most anti-gun president in history."

Regardless of any campaign rhetoric, Obama is unlikely to enact a gun ban or change the rights of gun owners. Obama's administration therefore isn't likely to present a challenge to last June's razor-thin Supreme Court vote that overturned the District of Columbia handgun ban, Kleck said. Nor is it likely to alter gun-control sentiments in the population as a whole.

"It's very hard to shift peoples' opinions on guns, one way or the other," Kleck said.

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