Does Hillary Clinton Want to Take Away All Your Guns?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Charles Cooke says that Hillary Clinton really does want to gut the Second Amendment:

Before he made his reprehensible “Second Amendment people” joke yesterday, Donald Trump said once again that Hillary Clinton wants “to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment.”

Whenever Trump says this the press works itself up into a tizzy, the typical response being that Trump is “wrong” to make this claim because a) Clinton has not explicitly called for a constitutional amendment to neutralize the Second Amendment, and/or b) she has said “no more” than that the Heller decision was wrongly decided. But both of these positions are too clever by half.

….Americans have enjoyed the right to keep and bear arms for all of their history. Should Hillary get her way, that right would disappear (at least legally), and the government would be freed up to make any policy choice it wished — including a total ban. Who can say with a straight face that this wouldn’t be “to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment”? Who can claim without laughing that a reversal of Heller wouldn’t render the right a dead letter?

Let me get this straight. Cooke says that for the entire 221 years before Heller, Americans enjoyed the right to keep and bear arms. But if Heller were overturned, it would render the Second Amendment a dead letter. What?

Hillary Clinton would clearly prefer to regulate gun ownership more than Cooke would like. That’s fair enough. And I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to the claim that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to own guns. But that right—as Cooke admits—managed to thrive during the entire two-century period before the Supreme Court got around to actually saying anything about it in 2008. So why would the Second Amendment suddenly go up in smoke if we returned to pre-Heller jurisprudence? It is a mystery.

UPDATE: Cooke objected to my original lede about Hillary taking away your guns, so I’ve changed it.

More substantively, based on reaction to this post, there’s a general belief that if the Supreme Court overturned Heller, the individual right to own a gun would be dead. But that’s nowhere near true. There’s a very wide spectrum of decisions the court could hand down, and it would be very unusual indeed for them to write an opinion that flatly ended gun ownership as an individual right. It’s almost certain that they would merely move the goalposts a bit, setting up some kind of balancing test that would preserve the individual right in some (or all) cases but would also put some boundaries on it—as they have for every other right in the Constitution.

If you’re in favor of an absolute, unfettered right to bear arms, that’s fine. I disagree, but it’s fine. However, you simply can’t say that the right is all or nothing. The Supreme Court virtually never takes that approach. Two centuries of both gun ownership and Supreme Court jurisprudence suggests very strongly that if they overturn Heller, they’ll do nothing more than choose a modestly different middle ground.

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

Dear Reader,

This feels like the most important fundraising drive since I've been CEO of Mother Jones, with staggeringly high stakes and so much uncertainty. In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," I try to unpack the reality we all face and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support Mother Jones’ nonprofit journalism: We need to raise $400,000 to help cover the vital reporting projects we have planned, and right now is no time to pull back.

Monika Bauerlein, CEO, Mother Jones

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate