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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump Distorts Clinton’s Gun Stance

Donald Trump distorts the facts when he says “Hillary Clinton wants to take your guns away” and “abolish the Second Amendment.” Clinton’s gun violence prevention proposal would impose restrictions, including a ban on semi-automatic “assault weapons,” but it does not call for banning all guns.

Trump made his remarks at a rally in Lynden, Washington, eliciting boos from his audience. As we have written before, Trump made a similar remark in a TV interview on Jan. 6, when he claimed Clinton “wants to take everyone’s gun away.”

Trump, May 7: Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment. She wants to abolish it. Hillary Clinton wants to take your guns away and she wants to abolish the Second Amendment. She wants to take the bullets away. She wants to take it.

Clinton has a gun violence prevention proposal on her website, which would deny gun owners from buying certain guns and block or delay the ability of some to purchase guns. But it does not call for taking any guns away.

Among other things, her plan would:

  • Expand background checks. Her proposal would expand required background checks to include some private sales at gun shows and over the Internet. The current requirement exempts any person “who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.”
  • Close the so-called “Charleston Loophole.” Federal law currently allows federally licensed dealers to sell firearms after a three-day waiting period for a background check even if a background check on the buyer is not completed. Legislation proposed by Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina would require a potential gun buyer to pass a background check before being sold the gun.
  • Ban semi-automatic “assault weapons.” Clinton supports reinstating the 1994 ban that expired in 2004. The ban was signed by her husband, President Bill Clinton. Her proposal makes no mention of retroactively banning such weapons. She was a cosponsor of legislation that would have extended the assault weapons ban before it expired in September 2004. The 1994 law allowed gun owners to keep prohibited weapons purchased before the ban took effect.

Clinton has said her gun proposals are “consistent with constitutional rights,” acknowledging that gun owners have a constitutional right to own guns.

Now, Clinton’s critics point to past comments that she has made as evidence that she wants to take away all guns. But these interpretations distort her position.

In October, Clinton was asked at a town hall in Keene, New Hampshire, about whether she would consider a gun buyback program like the one that was instituted in Australia after a mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996. In that case, Australia banned certain semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns, and purchased 640,000 prohibited firearms in a buyback program. Clinton said some U.S. communities have held gun buyback programs and it “would be worth considering” on a national level.

Clinton, Oct. 16, 2015: Now communities have done … gun buyback programs. But I think it would be worth considering doing it on the national level if that could be arranged. Remember I know after the terrible ’08 financial crisis, one of the programs that President Obama was able to get in place was cash for clunkers. Remember that? Getting them off the road. It was partly a way to get people to buy new cars, ’cause we want more economic activity, it was partly a way to get old models, that were polluting too much, sort of off the road. So I think that is worth considering. I do not know enough detail to tell you how we would do it, or how it would work, but certainly the Australian example is worth looking at.

The National Rifle Association said her comments in Keene proved that the “real goal of gun control supporters is gun confiscation.”

But Clinton’s non-committal answer to a hypothetical question at a single campaign stop hardly amounts to proof that she “wants to take your guns away,” as Trump said. She said only that the Australia buyback program is “worth looking at” and “worth considering.” It is not part of her gun violence prevention plan.

Trump went a step further this time, saying that Clinton “wants to abolish the Second Amendment.”

The evidence for this appears to be a recording of a speech that Clinton gave in New York last year, although Trump’s campaign did not respond to our request for clarification. In that speech, Clinton said that “the Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment, and I am going to make that case every chance I get.”

The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website that obtained an audio of her speech, wrote at the time: “Although Clinton did not identify which Supreme Court case she disagreed with, she appeared to be criticizing the landmark 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which found the handgun ban in Washington, D.C., unconstitutional.”

Gun rights advocates point to that quote to claim that Trump was right in claiming that Clinton “wants to abolish the Second Amendment.”

Asked about Clinton’s remarks about the Second Amendment, Clinton campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin confirmed that Clinton was referring to the Heller case. He said Clinton “believes Heller was wrongly decided in that cities and states should have the power to craft common sense laws to keep their residents safe.”

“Of course Hillary Clinton does not want to repeal the Second Amendment. Donald Trump is simply peddling falsehoods and conspiracy theories in an attempt to divide the American people and win votes,” Schwerin said in an email to us. “Along with the vast majority of Americans, Clinton believes there are common sense steps we can take at the federal level to keep guns out of the hands of criminals while respecting the 2nd Amendment. She also believes Heller was wrongly decided in that cities and states should have the power to craft common sense laws to keep their residents safe.”

In that response to us, the Clinton campaign is echoing, in part, a separate dissenting opinion in Heller written by Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote that the District had a compelling public safety interest in banning handguns.

Nominated by President Bill Clinton, Breyer agreed with the dissenting opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens that the individual right to keep and bear arms is limited to militia service. There is “no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution,” Stevens wrote (page 2). But Breyer also wrote a dissent in which he said that even if the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms for self-defense, the District’s law did not violate the Second Amendment because it “properly seeks to further the sort of life-preserving and public-safety interests that the Court has called ‘compelling’ ” (page 26-27).

Breyer wrote that the law did not “disproportionately burden” gun owners for several reasons, including: The ban was “tailored to the life-threatening problems it attempts to address”; it banned “one class of weapons, handguns, leaving residents free to possess shotguns and rifles, along with ammunition”; and it covered an area that “is totally urban.”

Schwerin’s statement that “cities and states should have the power to craft common sense laws to keep their residents safe” is consistent with Breyer’s dissent.

Schwerin’s statement that Clinton “does not want to repeal the Second Amendment” is consistent with Clinton’s past statements about protecting “constitutional rights of responsible gun owners.” Here are three of them:

Clinton, June 20, 2015: Now, I lived in Arkansas and I represented Upstate New York. I know that gun ownership is part of the fabric of a lot of law-abiding communities. But I also know that we can have common sense gun reforms that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the violently unstable, while respecting responsible gun owners. What I hope with all of my heart is that we work together to make this debate less polarized, less inflamed by ideology, more informed by evidence, so we can sit down across the table, across the aisle from one another, and find ways to keep our communities safe while protecting constitutional rights.

Clinton, Feb. 29: If we can’t figure out how to respect the constitutional rights of responsible gun owners, but keep guns out of people who have felony records, who are fugitives, stalkers, have domestic violence restraining orders against them, are dangerously mentally ill, shame on us. (At the 25 minute mark.)

Clinton, April 20: There is a Second Amendment, there are constitutional rights. We aren’t interested in taking away guns of lawful, responsible gun owners.

Trump may choose not to believe what Clinton says, but the fact is there is no evidence that Clinton wants to “take your guns away” or “abolish the Second Amendment.” She hasn’t said that, and her gun proposals would not do that.