Is Trump Right About Hillary’s Views On Guns?

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John Lott President, Crime Prevention Research Center
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The media — from fact checkers to late night talk shows — has had a field day claiming that Trump is making false statements on guns. The media ought to have lost credibility by now.

Last Friday at the NRA convention, Donald Trump forcefully repeated his challenge to Hillary Clinton on guns: “As I said before, she wants to abolish the Second Amendment. She wants to take your guns away. She wants to abolish — just remember that. … If she gets to appoint her judges, she will abolish the Second Amendment.”

Hillary Clinton tweeted back “You’re wrong, @realDonaldTrump. We can uphold Second Amendment rights while preventing senseless gun violence.”

CNN noted: “Clinton, who swiftly rebutted Trump’s remarks, has called for universal background checks and stricter controls on firearms, but has never called for the abolition of the 2nd Amendment. In fact, on her website, she calls gun ownership ‘part of the fabric of many law-abiding communities.’” Politifact asserted: “We found no evidence of Clinton ever saying verbatim or suggesting explicitly that she wants to abolish the Second Amendment, and the bulk of Clinton’s comments suggest the opposite. She has repeatedly said she wants to protect the right to bear arms while enacting measures to prevent gun violence.”  

But these are the same organizations that assured people that their concerns about Obama on guns were wrong. In 2008, FactCheck.org asserted that there was no evidence that Obama would “appoint Judges to the U.S. Supreme Court and Federal Judiciary Who Share His Views on the Second Amendment.” Obama “always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms,” the website concluded.

Politifact now tries giving people the same assurance: “The bulk of Clinton’s comments suggest the opposite [that she supports gun ownership].”  CNN says the same.

And yet, Obama went on to appoint Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Otis McDonald’s case against Chicago’s gun ban, Sotomayor agreed with this argument: “I can find nothing in the Second Amendment ’s text, history, or underlying rationale that could warrant characterizing it as “fundamental” insofar as it seeks to protect the keeping and bearing of arms for private self-defense purposes.”

In New York City last fall, Clinton privately told donors: “The Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment, and I am going to make that case every chance that I get.” Kagan spearheaded President Bill Clinton gun control efforts during the 1990s.

Politifact described these Supreme Court cases as merely a debate over “gun regulations.” But these cases pertained to a much more precise question. The Heller and McDonald Supreme Court decisions struck down complete gun bans in Washington, DC and Chicago. Heller also struck down a DC law that made it a crime to put a bullet in the chamber of a gun. 

If the Second Amendment means anything, it means that people should be able to own guns and that a complete ban goes too far. With the passing of Antonin Scalia, the court would now be divided 4-4 on these cases. If Hillary appoints Scalia’s replacement and gets her wish to overturn those cases, governments could again ban all guns.

Clinton’s private comments are also more likely to give us a better view of her plans. This is surely true of President Obama’s private comments, which include his 2008 remarks that Americans “cling to guns or religion.” Or his comments to me about not wanting people to own guns when we were both working at the University of Chicago Law School,

The late night talk shows have also piled up on Trump. On Monday night, Seth Meyers asserted that Trump’s push for ending gun-free zones was hypocritical because guns were banned from the 2016 NRA convention. But Meyers should have double-checked his claims. As the NRA announced on its website, the only places at the convention where guns would be temporarily banned were areas where the U.S. Secret Service had jurisdiction.

In 2008, the media dismissed warnings about Obama’s views on guns. And a lot of damage has been done. This time, the consequences of trusting the media may be the permanent loss of many Americans’ right to defend themselves and their families.

John Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010, 3rd edition).