"Does [Libertarian Party presidential candidate] Bob Barr embrace the 2nd Amendment?", libertarian blog LewRockwell.com (LRC) asked last month. (1) Superficially, that is as odd a question as asking: "Does Rudy Giuliani support the War on Terror?" Bob Barr's long record as a gun rights champion has rarely been questioned even by his critics; as in this summary from an anti-Barr website:
The ControversySince Barr won the Libertarian nomination in May, though, a different story can be read on the internet, most often in the comments sections of blogs. The following comments are typical: Hence the July 2 LRC piece, calling on Barr to "stake out a clear position on this that decisively distances him from the vague McCainian position on the 2nd Amendment." (1)
Bob Barr (R-Geor.) has never met a gun he didn't like. That and his power position in the House earned him high marks from the National Rifle Association
[NRA].... Early in 1994, when Barr began his run for Congress, the NRA provided his campaign with critical support and worked closely with him to get out the vote.... The Georgia Gun Owners' PAC, which received funds from the NRA, also threw its support behind Barr and provided $5,000 in crucial money for the primary race.... The NRA put $4,950 more into Barr's campaign coffers ... in the general election....
Throughout the years, Barr has consistently advocated the National Rifle Association's positions on almost everything, ... has consistently acted as the NRA's best friend in congress. His championship of gun rights is so large that he was second in number of votes to Charlton Heston for the position of President of the NRA. Heston received 161,172 votes while Barr received 144,392. Barr also sits on the 76 member board of directors of the NRA, which obviously makes him friendly to the board's concerns. (2)
The following day, LP Radical Caucus member Susan Hogarth added her voice to the chorus, on the blog Last Free Voice:
Barr -- although he claims to be strong on the Second -- seems to have a mixed past with regards to gun control legislation. As with so many other of his anti-freedom votes in the past, Barr has not taken the time to address the concerns of the Libertarians he now represents as to his current pro-freedom stances. (3)In July the Barr campaign moved to address some of those concerns, by putting up an issues page which includes a statement on the Second Amendment [see below]. However, it did not (and probably will not) publicly address Barr's past "anti-freedom votes". For answers to those questions, one has to go elsewhere.
For a couple of reasons, 'elsewhere' should not be the NRA. First, one would not expect the NRA to be fully objective about one of their own directors. Second, NRA's own Second Amendment credentials can be questioned. Hogarth raises both points quite diplomatically: "Barr seems to emphasize his affiliation with the NRA quite often. This has always seemed a little trying too hard' to me as someone who is pretty sceptical of the NRA as a tool for gun owner freedom." (3)
LRC's assessment of the group is even blunter: "When asked if he supported this at the LP debate in Denver, ... Barr relayed that Chuck Heston was a good friend of his -- as if the NRA is libertarian on the right to bear arms." (1)
The Record: Barr's First Term Fortunately, there are other Second-Amendment groups which have (a) no connections to Barr and (b) more credibility with libertarians. Fortunately, too, one of those groups, the Gun Owners of America (GOA) -- once described by Congressman Ron Paul as "the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington" (4) -- has been both lobbying Congress, and rating Congressmen on their voting records, for more than three decades.
By a third stroke of luck, GOA has posted evaluations of four presidential candidates -- Chuck Baldwin, Bob Barr, John McCain, and Barack Obama -- on its website; including an examination of each candidate's voting record, except for Mr. Baldwin (who has none).
GOA's assessment -- written by Erich Pratt, the group's director of communications -- makes interesting reading:
Barr arrived in Congress in 1995 as a former U.S. prosecutor. Sporting a law-and-order mindset, his voting record was often antithetical to gun rights, as he only voted right in 8 out of 14 votes in his first term.Pratt adds that "Barr also voted for an appropriations bill which contained two pieces of pernicious gun control":
Many of his early votes in Congress showed his strong support for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- an agency which has spent several decades terrifying and abusing gun owners. In his first term, Barr voted to allow the ATF to conduct warrantless searches of gun owners, to increase the agency's pay by $40 million, and to federalize many state crimes which would have increased the scope and jurisdiction of the ATF. (5)
In addition, Barr sponsored one piece of blatant anti-gun legislation: "the Republican-sponsored anti-terrorism bill (H.R. 2703). As one of only three cosponsors on the bill, Rep. Barr was intent on pushing his terror bill through.... GOA opposed the Barr bill, as it would have -- among other things -- jeopardized the gun industry by punishing gun dealers for selling a firearm to someone that they should have known was going to use or threaten to use the gun in a crime of violence. This would have driven all gun sales underground, as only the clairvoyant know who is going to use a gun in a crime!"
- The Lautenberg gun ban which disarms gun owners for small (misdemeanor) offenses in the home -- "offenses" as slight as spanking a child or grabbing a spouse; and
- The Kohl gun ban which creates a virtual one-half mile wide "gun free" circle around every American school (or a 1,000 foot zone going in any one direction from any school)."
Against this, one has to place Barr's signature piece of legislation from that year: the repeal of the "assault weapons" ban:
During his first year in office, Rep. Barr was tasked by the Republican leadership to sponsor legislation that would repeal the very unpopular ban on semi-automatic firearms (which had been enacted by President Clinton the year before).... While Barr introduced the bill, HR 1488, his bill also did much more, as it would have increased the power and scope of the ATF. GOA met with Rep. Bob Barr several times and brought the problematic provision to his attention.... In the end, GOA was able to persuade Rep. Barr to drop the provision.... At this point, GOA was asked by the Republican leadership to help clean up the bill. Roll Call, the newspaper of record for events in Congress, reported in October of 1995 that GOA "won a match" in forcing changes in H.R. 1488.On balance, though, Barr gets barely a passing grade (57%) on Second Amendment rights for his first term: not low enough to place him "on the side of tyranny," but by no means a libertarian record, either.
The Record: the Rest of the StoryHowever, there is more to the story. Pratt continues:
But what happened after that can only be described as remarkable, as over the following years (until his retirement in 2003), Barr voted right on 27 out of 31 votes affecting gun rights.Which gives Barr an 81% voting record for the last six of his eight years in the House: a record that, Pratt notes, is "not quite 100 percent in line with the Libertarian Party;" but "a record that is certainly better than 99 percent of most Republicans and Democrats."
Pratt also qualifies one of Barr's four anti-gun votes, that for his own anti-terrorism bill:
While the terror bill eventually passed the following year, it only did so after Rep. Barr introduced an amendment to delete most of GOA's concerns from the bill. The Barr amendment passed 229-191. Yes, Barr did end up voting for final passage of the bill (which was still rated as an anti-gun vote by GOA). But the entire struggle had left an indelible mark on Barr. From this time on, he would generally be walking with us (even if it meant opposing his party).In his second term, Barr even introduced a Lautenberg ban repeal bill; though "it would have only applied to the retroactive part of the gun ban, leaving the misdemeanor ban in place for the future."
"In his fifth year, Barr even voted with small minorities in the House to support gun owners' rights. He opposed language that would have mandated trigger locks sales with every handgun sold (Barr was one of only 115 congressmen who voted correctly) and opposed an amendment that would have criminalized the juvenile possession of certain semi-automatic firearms (Barr was one of only 69 who voted right)."
"Not only that," Pratt continues, but "Barr sponsored bills to prevent frivolous lawsuits against the gun industry and spearheaded the fight against a National ID card and the so-called "sneak and peek" provisions in the PATRIOT Act."
In addition, "Barr supported [Ron] Paul's efforts to withdraw the United States from the United Nations while he was still in the Congress. Many gun owners support such a withdrawal due to the strong anti-gun advocacy of the global organization."
Conclusion "It's a truism in Washington," states Pratt, "that a politician's voting record gets worse the more time he spends in Congress. Even the most fire-breathing constitutionalist has buckled under the pressure of party politics to vote for pork barrel projects and other anti-rights measures which are completely contrary to the positions on which he or she campaigned. There are exceptions to this rule, however. And one notable exception is former Rep. Bob Barr."
Indeed. Examining the evidence seems to fully support my previous impression of Barr: that of a libertarian-leaning Republican (an Ayn Rand Republican, no less) who became, "first, a Congressman whose voting record was, on the whole, libertarian; and, second, one whose voting record was becoming more libertarian the longer he served." (6)
"When political pundits look back on [Barr's] congressional career," Pratt adds, "they don't typically remember the first term, but rather the civil libertarian that emerged during the ensuing years." Bob Barr's later, fully "civil libertarian" record is indeed impressive. One has to conclude that he deserves the high praise that some gun owners have bestowed on him; including this (somewhat gushy) assessment by Tanya Metaska (formerly director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action) written during Barr's last primary campaign:
The election for Georgia's 7th District Congressional seat will be decided this year, not in November but in August. It's a primary race that pits two incumbent Republicans against each other. The first is a typical Congressman: unknown to most Americans including many in his district. The other is an outspoken fighter: a champion for gun rights, civil liberties, criminal justice, and many other conservative causes....-
In this race there is more than a dime's worth of difference between the candidates. One is a typical Congressman, while the other, Bob Barr, is a fighter for individual rights and the candidate that every liberal in this country would like to see defeated. It could be the most important race for gun owners, civil libertarians, and conservatives this year. (7)
Sources(1) Anthony Gregory, "Does Bob Barr Embrace the 2nd Amendment?," Lewrockwell.com, July 2, 2008. http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewr...es/021803.html
(2) "Bob Barr: NRA’s Legislator of the Year," The Two Faces of Bob Barr (accessed Aug. 5, 2008). http://www.tylwythteg.com/enemies/Barr/barr1.html
(3) Susan Hogarth, "Bob Barr’s Second Amendment Record," July 3, 2008. http://lastfreevoice.wordpress.com/2...ndment-record/
(4) "Gun Owners of America," Wikipedia (accessed Aug. 6, 2008.)
(5) All quotations in italics are from:
Erich Pratt, "Bob Barr: The Transformation of a Former Republican," Gun Owners of America (accessed Aug. 7, 2008). http://www.gunowners.org/pres08/barr.htm
(6) George Dance, "Bob Barr’s Real Record (II)," Nolan Chart, May 22, 2008. http://www.nolanchart.com/article3849.html
(7) Tanya Metaska, "The Most Important Congressional Race?", FrontPageMagazine.com, Apr. 9, 2002. http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/Rea...6-ED1EEC54D584
Bob Barr on: the Second Amendment"America's Founders viewed the Second Amendment as necessary to protect the citizen, states and the nation from tyranny both domestic and foreign. Blackstone's Commentaries termed this right as 'the true palladium of liberty.'
"The Second Amendment is no less important today. As the Supreme Court recently has held, the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right. The Second Amendment guarantees all Americans the means to hunt, protect themselves and their families from crime, and ultimately defeat any effort to impose tyranny in America.
"I oppose any law requiring registration of, or restricting the ownership, manufacture, or transfer or sale of firearms or ammunition to law-abiding citizens. The Court majority behind the landmark Heller ruling was narrow, and should be supported by the Justice Department, not undercut by the federal government, as happened during the Bush and predecessor Clinton administration."
See also: "Bob Barr on Second Amendment 5/24/2008," YouTube, June, 4, 2008.
"Bob Barr: DC Gun Ban Decision is Great for America," YouTube, June 26, 2008.