Supreme Court's Landmark Gun Decision Purely Political?

This is a rush transcript from "The Beltway Boys", June 28, 2008, that has been edited for clarity.

FRED BARNES, FOX CO-HOST: Coming up on "The Beltway Boys," the Supreme Court issues a landmark ruling protecting an individual's right to bear arms.

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX GUEST CO-HOST: The hot button issue is roiling the presidential race. We'll tell you how John McCain is trying to get the upper hand.

BARNES: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton take steps to unify the party. The $64,000 question remains: what to do with Bill Clinton.

WILLIAMS: And gridlock on Capitol Hill hits a new low. We'll have the fallout.

BARNES: That's all coming up on "The Beltway Boys," but first, the headlines.


BARNES: I'm Fred Barnes.

WILLIAMS: And I'm Juan Williams, in for Mort Kondracke. And we're "The Beltway Boys."

BARNES: Tonight's hot story, Juan, is guns, guns, guns. The Supreme Court's decision on guns was close, 5-4. But nonetheless, it was decisive, it was definitive, it was clear. And what it said was that individuals, not just individuals who might be part of the state militia, but all individuals have a right to have guns.

And, of course, it struck down this Washington D.C. law that says you couldn't even have a handgun in your home for self-defense, which I thought was pretty case.

In any case, the court was divided. Justice Scalia was the opinion for the majority, siding with Roberts, Thomas and Kennedy and Alito. What he said was this: "The handgun ban and the trigger lock requirement violate the Second Amendment. The district's total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of arms that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense."

In the minority, Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg and Breyer, they were the minority. Stevens wrote the descent: "There is no indication," he said, "that the framing of the amendment intended to enshrine common law right of self-defense in the Constitution. The court stakes its holding on a strained and unpersuasive reading of the amendment's text."

The justices were divided but oddly enough the presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, were not. And here's what they said.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm very pleased about that decision. I had filed a brief along with 50 some other senators. Senator Obama had declined to do that.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have said consistently that I believe the Second Amendment is an individual right. Even though we have an individual right to bear arms, that right can be limited by sensible, reasonable gun laws.


BARNES: Did you see McCain drinking coffee.

WILLIAMS: Taking it easy, huh?

BARNES: Taking it easy. One thing, Barack Obama has not been consistent on this issue at all. On the one hand, he said he supports the D.C. gun ban. On the other hand, he supports this decision that has struck down almost all of it.

WILLIAMS: Right, he's in the middle. But, Fred, Fred, Fred, let me tell you, you're clinging to your guns out of your bitterness.

BARNES: Not my religion?

WILLIAMS: Let me tell you that what you've got here is a situation now where the barn door's been thrown open as to how we interpret what limits can be placed on having a gun in this country. So let's take a listen. This is a 5-4 ruling, and I think it was a pretty close ruling because it's become so political.

Let's listen to the two sides of the argument from people who are going to be impacted by it.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Forever this goes down as a real permanent part of American Constitution law, the Second Amendment as an individual right. That's a monumental day.

ADRIAN FENTY, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA MAYOR: As mayor, although I am disappointed in the court's ruling, and believe, as I said, for the past year that more handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence, it is important to both respect the court's authority and then to act quickly.


WILLIAMS: Now, that's not just Mayor Fenty of the District of Columbia. That's Mayor Bloomberg of New York, that's Mayor Daley of Chicago, that's Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia. I can go on and on. Everyone is saying exactly what does this mean? Because guns on the street and the murder rate especially, and sad for me to say, black on black crime, it's out of control in this country.

So what we have here seems to me a political decision where you had the conservative majority take a predictable stand. Kennedy obviously is the swing vote. He's the new Sandra Day O'Connor. He decides everything.

But as a D.C. resident, let me just tell you something, I'm no Barack Obama on this. I'm not wishy-washy at all. My sense is more guns on the street is a problem. More guns in the hands of people who are vulnerable is a problem. Just as we have a prohibition on the sale of cocaine or heroin. There are vulnerable people who, if they are allowed to have these things, are going to damage themselves and others. I think it's a societal responsibility to put in place some restraint.

BARNES: Wait a minute though. Now that this ruling has been made, you're not going to buy a gun to have at home for self-defense?



WILLIAMS: I would never — because — now, you've told me, because I talked to when — not just on TV. You told me, but studies indicate there's not going to be any diminution in street violence because of the fact that there's no ban on handguns.

Just to my mind, it's scary, the idea that you're going to have more people with more guns and more fearful people who are most likely to buy the guns, I think, shooting their husband and wives and children and some stranger that knocks at the door. I don't think it's the right step. I don't think the framers of the Constitution had in mind modern America when they were talking about an armed militia.

BARNES: This D.C. law, Juan, has been on the books since 1976. It hasn't had any effect in curbing gun violence at all in the District of Columbia.

I'm glad you mentioned Justice Anthony Kennedy become he has become the big swing vote on the court. Matt Continetti, of the "Weekly Standard" writes in our new issue, "What's the scariest words in constitutional law these days? Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court. That can scare both liberals and conservatives because you never know where Justice Kennedy," like Sandra Day O'Connor, as you mentioned, "is going to line up."

Besides the D.C. gun case, Kennedy was the deciding vote on the no- death penalty for the child rapist decision and the Exxon oil spill and the recent decision to giving Gitmo detainees the right to petition for habeas corpus. Last term, he voted with the majority in all 24 of the court's 5-4 decisions.

WILLIAMS: On that, Fred...

BARNES: I wanted to mention that child rapist decision. There he said they can't — the death penalty can't be imposed because of what he called evolving standards of decency. I don't think standards of decency have evolved the way he thinks they have.

WILLIAMS: Fred, remember, he's a Reagan appointee.

Here's the thing. I think the court has always been discussed. It's supposed to be a potentially decisive issue in the upcoming presidential race. This time around, I don't know, is it Republicans and conservatives who will be energized about this guns decision, a major decision or is it going to be liberals and Democrats who are energized because you've got two justices, Sandra Day, not Sandra Day O'Connor — I'm thinking of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 75. And you've got John Paul Stevens, who is 88. Both primed to be replaced by the next president. If it's becomes a secure conservative majority, expect more decisions like this gun one.

BARNES: Look, the liberals are all fired up for this election. Maybe this will help conservatives to get fired up seeing how fragile and close this decision that they favored was.

Coming up, the Clintons are promising to help Barack Obama, but could they do more harm than good? Hot story number two, straight ahead.


WILLIAMS: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys." I'm Juan Williams, in for Mort Kondracke.

This week's second hot story, shotgun wedding. That's right, Fred, a shotgun wedding. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, they traveled back to New Hampshire, the scene of that dramatic primary. This time they hold a unity event in the town of Unity. Here they are.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D), NEW YORK: We may have started on separate paths. But today our paths have merged. Today our hearts are set on the same destination for America. Today we are coming together for the same goals.

OBAMA: She rocks. She rocks. That's the point I'm trying to make. I am proud to call her a friend. and I know how much we need both Bill and Hillary Clinton as a party and as a country in the months and years to come.


WILLIAMS: So much for that Annie Oakley and you inexperienced pretender, huh? That was their love boat moment, Fred. We'll give it to them.

But some big questions remain. Big question number one for you, Fred BARNES: where's Bill Clinton? I think he was over in London at some big party, not Unity in New Hampshire. They have to wonder how committed is he to this, how hurt is he by the fact his legacy is somehow now damaged because Hillary Clinton didn't get her moment.

Big question number two for you, can Hillary Clinton convince about 15 percent of her voters who tell pollsters they won't vote for Obama. I'm talking here about people, specifically women, working class women, but also senior women. Then I'm talking about Hispanics, I'm talking about the Jewish, I'm talking about the working class white folks. These things are key in the swing states where Obama needs to do well if he hopes to defeat John McCain.

Big question number three for you, what role will Hillary Clinton play at the convention? Bob Barnett, prominent Washington lawyer, a guy who has done a lot of book deals, he is trying to broker this arrangement.

And it includes big question number four for you, the financial deal. The financials are really important here because Hillary Clinton needs help paying off her debt. And, of course, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton symbolically wrote checks for $2,800, maxed out. But are they really going to help in terms of transferring all the donors and making an effort to help Barack Obama raise a $200 to $300 million he needs for the general election since he opted out of public financing?

BARNES: June, you have so many questions I had to write them down. Like I'd remember them.

But Bill Clinton's easy and he's pouting. When they're were doing these negotiations, Bob Barnett, as you said, the Washington lawyers involved between the two campaigns about what Bill will do? They can agree on anything. He's going to do whatever he wants in the campaign. Maybe a lot, maybe destructive. But he can't be controlled by some agreement between the campaigns.

And as for all those voting blocks you mentioned, I think the only one that will not try to move heavily to Obama is this working class — basically working class whites in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and so on. The truth is they won't go to Obama. And the other truth is he can win the without them I think. But it will certainly help.

Hillary at the convention, I can't imagine he would want her to give a speech on the final night when he gives his big speech.


BARNES: Or Wednesday when it's the big speech for his vice presidential running mate. It will be prime time, maybe on Tuesday night or Monday night, which she probably doesn't want to do.

Then the question about the money, somehow he'll have to get the funds — look, he's been a little — Obama's been a little cool to this idea of really leaning on people who donated to him now to bail out Hillary because she owes a lot of money. But he may have to do that to...

WILLIAMS: I think he made a commitment down the line to help. Here's the thing, Fred...

BARNES: No, but look, if they paper it over on Friday, feelings — when Hillary got on the plane to New Hampshire, I'm told she wouldn't even look at Obama's campaign manager, David Axelrod. Can you imagine that?

WILLIAMS: Pettiness. But here's the thing, she is the best person to be his vice president. If you look at the polls, she would help him the most with those very constituencies we were talking about, specifically women.

You start to thinking about Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, Ed Rendell, of Pennsylvania, Joe Biden, very attractive, very interesting, a lot of foreign policy experience. Sam Nunn, Jim Webb, the senator from Virginia, can help him with that state. But none of them — all of them are second tier when it comes to any comparison to Hillary Clinton. It seems to me that if he really wants that community, he'd be about saying Senator Clinton, what about it, will you join my ticket.

BARNES: I don't agree with that at all. Hillary would be three things: trouble, trouble, trouble.

WILLIAMS: Well, Bill, Bill would be trouble.

BARNES: He would be — four things: trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble.

All right, coming up, John McCain rakes in the dough. Let the finger pointing begin. The world's greatest deliberative body grinds to a half over bills to deal with the energy and housing crisis. We'll have the fallout next.


BARNES: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys." Time for our "Ups and Downs."

Up, John McCain. He's rapidly catching up to Barack Obama in the fund-raising race. He was nearly even in last month's fund-raising totals. His cash on hand numbers are on par with Obama's too. In overall total receipts, McCain still has catching up to do. Obama has nearly a $180 million advantage over McCain, but the Republican National Committee had some deep pockets for McCain. It has $53 million on hand, the DNC only $4 million.

That's a lot of money.


BARNES: I'd like to go through that again and add them all up for you, but you get the drift.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. This is just a shock to me because if you look at the overall numbers, you compare what they have raised over the course of the year, Obama, who is a phenomenon, has raised almost $300 million, that $295 you spoke of, versus about $237 — I'm sorry, $124 for McCain. $124, that's a huge difference.

Now, going towards the general election, John McCain has got to live within the limits of public finance, but he is going to get the help not only from the Republican National Committee that you were talking about, but also potentially from 527s, who scare the pants off of Barack Obama.

Now, so far, the 527s say that they're not seeing the big donors that showed up last time for George W. Bush to take on John Kerry and the Swiftboating. They're saying the big donors, the enthusiasm just isn't there for John McCain. That's the problem.

Now, I don't know if the big donors come around as we his the fall, but right now, John McCain finds himself in a very surprising position, able to run as, able to build structure on the same basis as the hero of the fund-raising of Barack Obama.

BARNES: But you're right about one thing. It's those 527s, those independent groups. They came on late for Bush in 2004. I think that may happen with the McCain as well when they start putting ads on in September and October. And right now, the independents and this with those ads on behalf of Obama attacking McCain.

But I would say this to you, Juan, money, money, money. That's all you seem to matters in these campaign.

WILLIAMS: Money. Not for you, I can say that.

BARNES: Money matters. Talking politics, money matters. McCain is doing OK. I think issues and campaign style and everything are more important. McCain, I think, is really at the moment getting nowhere against Barack Obama. There's some issues he can use, both to thrill conservatives. And just the most obvious one is right out there, the energy issue and gas prices and drilling for oil. He's all over the lot on that issue. He's muddied it so much it's not effective for him. And he can talk, as we said earlier, about getting conservative justices on this fragile Supreme Court where to win a majority opinion for conservatives, they have to have Justice Anthony Kennedy and they never know when he'll be there.

WILLIAMS: I think he's got a problem, which is he's got to run to the middle to catch the independent vote, to be the maverick John McCain. At the same time, he's got to assure the base that he's still the conservative Republican John McCain. That's a big problem. But you know what? It'll come around. We'll see if he picks it up, especially now that you say what a lot of conservatives will say, wait a minute, it's the most liberal member of the senator or John McCain. Maybe they'll make a choice.

Down, the Senate. They left town for the Fourth of July recess pretty early, but they left leaving two key issues on the legislative shelf, the mortgage crisis and sky-high gas prices. What you saw was a very frustrated Chris Dodd saying, wait a minute, we're trying to deal with something causing pain in American, this mortgage crisis, and instead what you get are senators on the Republican side trying to put in clauses to help with energy and somehow give breaks to the energy producers in this country. Why don't we deal with one thing at a time? I think Chris Dodd is right.

I know you say this is the senate and we've had situations in the past where people tie things up. But when it comes to getting something done, don't you have the sense that the American people are sick and tired of this kind of do nothing response coming from the U.S. Senate.

BARNES: Yes, I think they are, but this housing bill, which is not a great bill. What it would do is it would bail out not just borrowers but lenders who made bad loans. It would dump $1.5 million of the riskiest loans out there on the taxpayers. We'd be paying for it. I don't think that's a good idea at a cost of perhaps up to $300 billion.

You have the energy bill. This Democratic Congress is not going to pass any serious legislation that will allow more drilling for oil and gas in federal lands or offshore.

But there was one other one that — the one that bothered me was their inability to pass this bill on terrorist surveillance, which would really make terrorism surveillance easier again. and they didn't get it passed either.

WILLIAMS: They're going to try. But you know what? Obama says he will vote for that bill. I wonder what the reaction will be on the left from that.

BARNES: Oh, they'll swallow it.

Up, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. He will continue his brutal regime after, quote, unquote, "winning" Friday's presidential runoff election, a vote that many international leaders, including President Bush, declared a sham.

WILLIAMS: To me, what's going on with Mugabe is an outrage. You're finally starting to see some African leaders, including the likes of Nelson Mandela, come around and say, you know what, this is too much.

Guess what, President Bush has members of the U.N. Security Council in town this week and said we have to start thinking about sanctions against Mugabe to try to bring an end to the violence and to this kind of autocratic rule that's somehow being presented as democracy. It's no democracy.

BARNES: It isn't going to be the Security Council. It isn't going to be President Bush. It is going to be these African leaders, I would think to who Mugabe would be a huge embarrassment. They're the ones that are really going to have to step in somehow, I think forcefully, and get him out of there. He's 84 years old. And have some semblance of democracy.

WILLIAMS: I think you have a reason to be proud of President Bush because he's going to take action here. There's too many Americans that have allowed this kind of situation to go on.

Anyway, you don't go anywhere because "The Buzz" is coming up next.


BARNES: Juan, what's all this buzz about General Colin Powell endorsing Barack Obama?

WILLIAMS: Robert Novak, our friend and colleague here at FOX, wrote a column in which he said it's possible that in fact General Powell would endorse Barack Obama, his fellow African-American, as his expression of his discontent with the way the Bush administration had handled not only the war but so many other issues. I think also Powell may be wanting to reinvent himself after the U.N.

But here's a thought for you, Fred. Why not have Colin Powell join with John McCain and make a powerhouse GOP ticket? I think that's the ticket.

BANRES: Well, they'd win. I think for sure they'd win. But just Powell endorsing Obama would give him a huge boost on national security, give him some creditability on his weakest issue. So Powell matters.

WILLIAMS: Yes, it would make him less risky.

BARNES: That's all for "The Beltway Boys" this week. Join us next week when the boys and Mort will be back in town.

Watch "The Beltway Boys" Saturday at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday at 1 and 6 a.m. ET

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