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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Deceptive Second Amendment Ads

Ads posted on Facebook from a committee working to reelect President Donald Trump claim that Democrats are calling for the Second Amendment to be repealed. To support the claim, the Trump campaign pointed to statements by a few state lawmakers and one candidate for U.S. Senate.

The ads, however, could lead some viewers to believe this is a position of Democrats in Congress or those running for president. It’s not.

We’ve written about literally accurate but misleading claims before: Statements that are true but omit information to leave a misleading impression. This type of deceptive advertising is similar. It takes the position of a few outlier politicians and presents it in a way that can lead viewers to believe this is the general position of the party.

“Democrats have finally admitted what they truly want: a repeal of the Second Amendment,” says one version of the ads, which were visible to specific Facebook users in many states, including swing states such as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. “It’s up to the American people to stand strong and defend our freedoms.”

Another ad says, “Democrats have been telling us that they only want ‘gun control.’ But the truth is finally out. Some are now proudly calling for a REPEAL OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT. We cannot let a few loud talking heads on the Left drown out the voices of the American people.”

Facebook’s “Ad Library” shows the ads were posted from Trump’s official account on Sept. 2 and Sept. 4, just days after the latest deadly mass shooting in Midland and Odessa, Texas. They were paid for by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee run by Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee. (That joint committee has paid to run ads making a similar claim before, including in 2018.)

Some of the recent ads include images of Trump, while others include short videos set to music. They all encourage supporters to add their names to a petition to defend the Second Amendment, which the Supreme Court decided in 2008 “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

But we’re not aware of Democrats in Congress or running for president who are calling to scrap the Second Amendment, and the Trump campaign didn’t identify any.

Instead, the campaign provided a few examples of Democratic state lawmakers, and one Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, who have called for a repeal to be undertaken or discussed, or have at least suggested that that’s their position.

A screenshot of some of the ads posted to Facebook on Sept. 4 from the official account of Donald Trump. Source: Facebook Ad Library


Democratic members of Hawaii’s state Legislature, for example, introduced resolutions in 2018 and 2019 that urge members of Congress “to propose and pass a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution … to clarify the constitutional right to bear arms,” and “consider and discuss whether the Second Amendment … should be repealed or amended to clarify that the right to bear arms is a collective, rather than individual, constitutional right.”

Also, in March 2018, New Hampshire state Rep. Katherine Rogers reportedly said that “it’s always time to revisit and to look at our Constitution,” after former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a New York Times op-ed that called for repealing the Second Amendment. Rogers, however, didn’t go that far herself.

“So I think having this discussion is good, and maybe the op-ed by Justice Stevens leads to a lot of interesting discussion,” she said, according to the New Hampshire Journal. “That’s a good thing. I don’t know if I’m ready to say let’s get rid of the Second Amendment, but I think it’s an interesting discussion for everybody to have.”

That same month, Louisiana state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who is also the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party and the vice chair of civic engagement and voter participation for the Democratic National Committee, wrote “Repeal the Second Amendment” in a since-deleted tweet in which she shared a link to Stevens’ opinion piece. But Louisiana Democratic Party Executive Director Stephen Handwerk later told the USA Today Network that Peterson told him that wasn’t her position.

More recently, in August, Sen. Ed Markey’s Democratic primary challenger in Massachusetts, Shannon Liss-Riordan, said she does believe repeal is necessary.

“I agree with the late Justice John Paul Stevens: the Second Amendment is ‘a relic of the 18th century.’ We need leaders in Washington who understand that, and have the courage and the will to fight to repeal the Second Amendment,” she reportedly said in a statement.

In addition, about 39 percent of Democrats support repealing the Second Amendment, according to a February 2018 Economist/YouGov poll, and about 33 percent of Democrats support it, according to an April 2018 Quinnipiac University survey.

But an official proposal to amend the Constitution can only be made in a convention called for by two-thirds of U.S. states, or it has to be proposed by two-thirds of the House and Senate. And last year, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told the New York Times, “It is unequivocally not the Democratic caucus’ position to repeal the Second Amendment.”

Democrats running to challenge Trump for the presidency in 2020 haven’t proposed doing that, either. Several candidates have unveiled plans to address gun violence that include a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” but not all guns.

On Sept. 1, the day before some of the Facebook ads reappeared, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas reiterated in a CNN interview his support for an “assault weapons ban” and a mandatory national buyback program for certain semi-automatic weapons, which he called “weapons of war.”

“This is not right, and we should not accept it,” he said. “And we should be honest with ourselves. Universal background checks will help. Ending the sales of weapons of war will help. But if millions of them remain on the streets, they will still be instruments of terror that terrify and terrorize us and take our lives. And I’m not going to accept that.”

“You don’t need an AR-15, an AK-47 … a weapon of war designed to kill people as efficiently, as effectively, in as great a number as possible,” he later added. “Let’s not sell those anymore, and let’s bring them back off of our streets.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden also said in a CNN interview last month that he would implement a federal gun buyback program for assault weapons. That was days after fatal mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4.

“The fact of the matter is they should be illegal, period. Look, the Second Amendment doesn’t say you can’t restrict the kinds of weapons people can own,” Biden argued. “What I would do is I would try to — I would institute a national buyback program and I would move in the direction of making sure that that, in fact, was what we tried to do, get them off the street.”

Biden said guns that had been legally purchased would not be confiscated.

So, some individual Democrats may support an effort to repeal the Second Amendment, but that’s not currently being pursued by Democrats in Congress or those running for president. That distinction may not be clear to Facebook users who encountered the ads imploring them to sign up to protect that part of the Constitution.