Giuliani and Gun Control: He was for it before he was against it
It’s among the most well-known and often-implemented strategies in the universe of presidential politics: appeal to the party’s base during the primaries and tack back towards the center during the run-up to the general election. This process doesn’t necessarily dictate that the presidential candidate “flip-flop” on any of his or her positions. He or she merely emphasizes one set of policies for the partisans who will be voting in the presidential primaries and then, several months later, emphasizes a different set of policies for the American electorate at large.
However, in recent years, a somewhat different tactic has emerged as a favorite among presidential candidates: the art of flip-flopping by presidential candidates who staked out positions that were popular when running for statewide office but became politically inconvenient when faced with appealing to the party base in the run up to presidential primaries.
This has certainly been the case with Mitt Romney, who repeated advocated his support for abortion rights when governor of Massachusetts (a state in which voters are overwhelming pro-choice) but conveniently converted to the pro-life a couple of years before the Republican presidential primaries (which are dominated by a party base which is overwhelmingly pro-life). It was also true–to a certain extent–with John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, both of whom supported the 2002 resolution granting the president the authority to invade Iraq and began to backtrack from their positions as the 2004 and 2008 Democratic Presidential primaries approached.
In yet another example of a politician advocating one position while running for state or local office and a completely different one upon running for president, Rudy Giuliani has decided that he now supports a very strict interpretation of the Second Amendment. While Giuliani’s critics have been quick to point out Giuliani’s sudden change of heart with regards to gun control, Giuliani’s defenders have argued that Giuliani’s positions are consistent with the principle of federalism–arguing that while he may have supported strict gun control laws for New York City, he believes that individual states have the right to reject such gun control laws.
Unfortunately for Giuliani and his supporters, Giuliani’s current “federalist” interpretation of the Second Amendment directly contradicts his gun control record as mayor of New York, a period during which he championed federal gun control laws:
In 1993, Giuliani supported the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and, as mayor-elect of New York City, worked with President Clinton’s justice department to implement further federal gun control measures.
In May of 1994, Mayor Giuliani spoke out in favor of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, arguing that assault weapons “have no legitimate purpose.”
In March of 1997, following an incident in which a Palestinian gunman opened fire within the Empire State Building, Mayor Giuliani issued a public address in which he argued:
We need a federal law that bans all assault weapons, and if in fact you do need a handgun you should be subjected to at least the same restrictionsâ€”and really stronger onesâ€”that exist for driving an automobile. The United States Congress needs to pass uniform licensing for everyone carrying a gun.
In June of 2000, Mayor Giuliani filed a lawsuit against gun control manufacturers and distributors, alleging a number of illegal practices on the part of the gun manufacturers, including:
Deliberately manufacturing many more firearms than can be bought for legitimate purposes such as hunting and law enforcement, and knowingly targeting these excess guns to criminals, youths and other persons unqualified to buy firearms
Deliberately undermining New York City’s gun control laws by flooding other markets which have less stringent gun laws with firearms that the manufacturers know are destined to be illegally resold in New York City.
Ignoring the illegal practices of gun distributors, many of whom openly engage in the above practices.
Refusing to manufacture safer guns, with features such as trigger locks and “personalization” measures that allow only authorized persons to fire the weapon.
The most stark example in which Giuliani was called out on his flip-flopping on the gun control, surprisingly enough, came during a Fox News Sunday interview with Chris Wallace on May 13, 2007:
WALLACE: One of the raps against you is that as mayor you did things that pleased your city but that weren’t necessarily good for the nation. Case in point: Gun control.
You now say that what works in New York doesn’t necessarily work in Montana. But as mayor, you supported the nationwide Clinton weapons assault ban. You supported nationwide federal licensing.
And you actually joined a lawsuit to make gun manufacturers liable if someone used their gun to shoot somebody.
GIULIANI: I did everything I could as mayor of New York City to reduce crime. And the strategy against guns, both civil and criminal, was very aggressive.
WALLACE: But that wasn’t just tough in New York City, it was tough around the nation.
GIULIANI: But so was the strategy I utilized in New York City on everything. I was criticized for being too aggressive about the enforcement of the laws, including the gun laws.
But the reality is I began with the city that was the crime capital of America. When I left, it was the safest large city in America.
I reduced homicides by 67 percent. I reduced overall crime by 57 percent. And you don’t do that by not aggressively enforcing the laws.
The quote that I have from the time I was mayor is that the conditions in New York and the things you do in New York about guns may be different than Texas. And the reality is I’ve always looked at it that way.
WALLACE: No, no, no, but at the time you said, in fact, that weak laws, weak gun laws, around in other states might actually end up producing guns on the streets of New York, so you needed nationwide laws.
GIULIANI: What we were doing was using civil remedies to try to help New York, as well as using criminal remedies to help New York.
The reality is as mayor of New York, I looked to do all the things that I could do to protect the people of my city. They were my responsibility. That’s the way I looked at it on September 11. That’s how I looked at it on the day that I became mayor of New York City.
Now, here’s how I look at…
WALLACE: And as president?
GIULIANI: As president, my interest is going to be how to protect the people of the United States of America. When I take that oath of office, it’ll be real clear to me who the people I have to protect are. They’re the people of the United States of America.
Now, the reality is–just as you asked me about line-item veto–I told you I’m a strict constructionist, or I try to be. The Second Amendment to the Constitution is about as clear as it can be.
It gives people the individual right to bear arms. I agree with that. I think that is a correct interpretation. That means that any restrictions have to be reasonable.
And those restrictions largely have to do with criminal background, background of mental illness, and they should basically be done on the state-by-state level. And that’s the guidelines that I would use in dealing with it as president.
The issue here isn’t that Giuliani changed his position on gun control. The issue is that he chose to do it just as he was preparing to run for president and that he offered little explanation for his change of heart other than the excuse that all too many Republicans fall back on when confronted by their flip-flops–9/11. In a speech before the National Rifle Association in September of 2007, Giuliani argued that the attacks on New York and the Pentagon put “a whole different emphasis on the things America needs to do to protect itself, and maybe even a renewed emphasis on the Second Amendment.”
It’s ironic that Giuliani would cite 9/11 as a reason for his renewed respect for the Second Amendment given that he’s also used 9/11 as a reason for undermining other portions of the Bill of Rights–particularly with regards to the USA PATRIOT Act and the NSA’s warrantless wireless surveillance program. His new-found commitment to the concept of federalism is equally laughable given his staunch support for allowing the federal government to conduct raids on medical marijuana users in states in which medical marijuana is legal.