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Amidst all the economic trouble, one industry has reason to celebrate. Sales of firearms increased significantly before the 2008 election, driven by fears that as President Barrack Obama would bring tighter restrictions on guns. The FBI reported that almost fifty percent more background checks were conducted in the first week of November 2008 compared to the same week in 2007.

While generating a surge for the gun industry, the 2008 elections may have a more significant effect on policy issues surrounding guns. After several years of momentum in favor of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the 2008 election favored gun control advocates. Should the Obama administration, with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, make a push for legislation tightening restrictions on firearms, or move to adopt a more gun-friendly stance, or do nothing and hope the issue receives as little attention as possible?

This article lays out a strategy for the Obama administration to translate the campaign rhetoric of overcome old dividing lines and partisan bickering into action. Despite the decades long political and cultural conflict surrounding gun control, there is room for consensus and compromise. President Obama should announce that he wants progress on regulating firearms, but will not support any proposal unless it also enhances gun rights. This article describes examples of how both sides could work together on measures that promote beneficial use of guns while reducing harmful misuse.

This approach emphasizes compromise in that the Obama administration would take a middle path between pursuing ideal policies and paying attention only to pragmatic political considerations. The approach must blend principle with practicality. Supporting measures that bolster both gun control and gun rights would enable Obama to make steps toward improving law and policy concerning guns, while minimizing the political risk and reducing the bitterness of the gun debate.

This article begins with an overview of the gun issue and a review of major developments in recent years. Although the NRA devoted enormous resources to convincing voters that Barack Obama posed a serious threat, Obama downplayed the issue, neither emphasizing nor repudiating reasonable gun control measures. Learning from the pitfalls and building on achievements of the past, the Obama administration can make progress on the gun issue with a strategy that emphasizes the compatibility of gun rights and sensible gun control.

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Harvard Law & Policy Review





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