President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team is asking potential
appointees detailed questions about gun ownership, and firearms
advocates aren’t happy about it.
The National Rifle Association has denounced the move, which has
already led one Republican senator to consider legislation aimed at
ensuring a president can’t use an applicant’s gun ownership status to
It’s just one question on a lengthy personnel form — No. 59 on a
63-question list — but the furor over the query is a vivid reminder of
the intensity of support for Second Amendment rights and signals the
scrutiny Obama is likely to receive from the ever-vigilant gun lobby.
Obama’s transition team declined to go into detail on why they included
the question, suggesting only that it was done to ensure potential
appointees were in line with gun laws.
“The intent of the gun question is to determine legal permitting,” said one transition aide.
But even some Democrats and transition experts are baffled by the inclusion of the question.
Tucked in at the end of the questionnaire and listed under “Miscellaneous,” it reads: “Do you or any members of your immediate family own a gun? If so, provide complete ownership and registration information. Has the registration ever lapsed? Please also describe how and by whom it is used and whether it has been the cause of any personal injuries or property damage.”
Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University, said
there was no such question for potential appointees when President
George W. Bush took office in 2000.
“It kind of sticks out there like a sore thumb,” Light said.
He expressed uncertainty over why it was included but surmised it was
out of an abundance of caution, a desire to avoid the spectacle of a
Cabinet-level or other high-ranking appointee who is discovered to have
an unregistered handgun at home.
“It’s the kind of thing that, if dug out, could be an embarrassment to the president-elect,” Light said.
Clay Johnson, deputy director of management at the Office of Management
and Budget and the head of Bush’s 2000 transition, also didn’t quite
understand the purpose of the question.
“It could be their way to say to prospects that they will have to
answer all these questions sooner or later, so be prepared,” Johnson
Matt Bennett, a veteran campaign operative who did a stint at Americans
for Gun Safety and who now works for the moderate Democratic think tank
Third Way, was equally befuddled.
“It strikes me as overly lawyerly,” he said, noting that only a small
percentage of guns owned by adults are ever used improperly.
Only half-joking, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) alluded to the shooting
accident involving Vice President Dick Cheney, suggesting the query
could be a better-safe-than-sorry measure.
“Given the behavior of the vice president under the last administration, you may want to know these things,” Ryan said.
On a more serious note, Ryan suggested that the new president was being “very, very thorough” in his approach.
An Obama ally and pro-gun Democrat from a blue-collar region of Ohio,
Ryan dismissed the notion that the inclusion of such a question would
do any political harm to the incoming president.
But other gun rights supporters want Obama to know the question has raised their antennae.