“I own an AR-15,” Graham told Fox News host Chris Wallace. “If there’s a natural disaster in South Carolina where the cops can’t protect my neighborhood, my house will be the last one that the gang will come to, because I can defend myself.”
The comment went viral Sunday, with more than 4.7 million watching one clip on Twitter as gun-control advocates rebuked the Republican senator. But his interview also underscored the steep challenge that President Biden and his allies will face in seeking to enact new restrictions on gun ownership.
On Tuesday, the day after a gunman killed 10 people, including a police officer, inside a Boulder grocery store, Biden called for a renewed ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as expanded federal background checks for gun sales. Later in the week, Biden also said he would consider executive orders limiting access to foreign-made guns and 3-D-printed weapons.
Activists and politicians, though, have said that expanded background checks may be a more feasible short-term goal in the wake of the latest round of mass shootings.
Indeed, Graham has supported expanding red-flag laws, which are in place in 19 states and can temporarily restrict gun sales to people flagged by family members or authorities as a danger to themselves or others. Last year, he co-sponsored legislation to encourage red-flag laws, and on Sunday said he still supports that move.
“Most of these problems have a lot to do with mental health. Count me in for addressing that issue,” he told Wallace. “Red-flag laws exist in 19 states. There’s some things we can do.”
But Graham also has long opposed any efforts to reintroduce a ban on assault weapons after Congress allowed the previous ban to expire in 2004 — a move that Graham endorsed at the time, calling the ban a “violation of the constitutional rights of responsible Americans.”
He’s also discussed owning an AR-15 in the past, including in the days after a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. As President Barack Obama pushed to reinstate the assault weapons ban, Graham argued against the move on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I own an AR-15. I’ve got it at my house. The question is, if you deny me the right to buy another one, have you made America safer?” he told host David Gregory on Dec. 23, 2012. “I don’t suggest you take my right to buy an AR-15 away from me because I don’t think it will work and I do believe better security in schools is a good place to start.”
Graham has posted photos to social media of him firing the weapon, which is stenciled with insignia from his Air Force Reserve unit, he told the Washington Examiner last week.
On Sunday, he pitched his assault weapon as a necessity to protect himself during a hypothetical natural disaster in his home state. “You don’t have to have an AR-15, but if you have one lawfully, I think you should be allowed to keep it,” he told Wallace.
Gun-control advocates lashed out at Graham over the segment, questioning his priorities during a natural disaster.
“So now we know that as a US Senator, you have two choices of action during a natural disaster in your state: 1) Fly to Cancún, or 2) Grab your AR-15, barricade your front door and protect yourself from all the ‘gangs,’ ” tweeted NBA coach Steve Kerr — whose father was shot to death and who has spoken often about preventing gun violence — referencing an aborted trip to Mexico by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) during last month’s widespread power outages.
Cameron Kasky, an activist and survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., suggested that Graham’s tough talk was a cover for the gun industry.
“Graham’s comments are a pretty good sign that gun control with Republicans is not a constitutional battle, it’s not about policy, it’s a culture-war thing,” Kasky told MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan on Sunday. “It’s what the gun lobby wants Republicans to say in order to sell more guns.”