Hillary Clinton “doesn’t believe in your right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.”
— Voice-over in National Rifle Association ad, released Aug. 10, 2016
“She’s one of the wealthiest women in politics. Combined income: $30 million. Tours the world in private jets. Protected by armed guards for 30 years,” the voice-over says, presumably referring to Secret Service protection. “But she doesn’t believe in your right to keep a gun at home for self-defense. She’s an out-of-touch hypocrite. And she’d leave you defenseless.”
A reader in Pittsburgh asked us about this ad, saying he saw it repeatedly during the evening news. “I know she’s for stronger gun laws,” the reader said, but he wondered whether she really “didn’t believe in your right to keep a gun at home for self-defense,” as the ad claims.
The NRA did not respond to queries, but Jennifer Baker, the public affairs director for the NRA’s lobbying arm, told PolitiFact North Carolina that the language was justified because Clinton has been critical of the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in Heller v. District of Columbia. That 5 to 4 decision held that the Second Amendment of the Constitution affords private citizens the right to keep firearms in their homes and that such possession need not be connected to military service.
In a private fundraiser in 2015, Clinton was recorded as saying that the Supreme Court was “wrong on the Second Amendment” and called for reinstating the assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004. “The idea that you could have an open carry permit with an AK-47 over your shoulder walking up and down the aisles of a supermarket is just despicable,” she said.
In many ways, the NRA’s attack is a more sophisticated version of Donald Trump’s repeated claim that Clinton wants to “abolish” the Second Amendment.” The NRA’s fear is that Clinton, as president, will have a chance to name a Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia, who wrote the Heller decision. The Supreme Court narrowly decided the case, with bitter opposition expressed by the minority, so gun-rights advocates fear a new justice will help the Supreme Court chip away at the sweeping nature of the Heller decision.
But this fear may not be realized, as predicting the rulings of Supreme Court justices not yet selected is a fool’s errand. Moreover, Clinton’s public positions on gun control are far less extreme than suggested by the ad. Her main focus has been on taking steps that she contends would reduce gun violence.
On her campaign website, Clinton calls for more comprehensive background checks, repealing the gun industry’s immunity from lawsuits for negligence, revoking the licenses of gun dealers who knowingly supply weapons to straw purchasers and gun traffickers, and toughening laws and regulations to prevent domestic abusers and the mentally ill from obtaining guns. She also calls for a renewal of the assault-weapons ban.
None of these proposals would restrict a person from buying a gun to keep at home for self-defense (unless that person was convicted of domestic abuse).
When asked in June on ABC’s “This Week” whether there was a constitutional right to bear arms, Clinton dodged the question and focused on the need for more regulations:
“If it is a constitutional right, then it — like every other constitutional right — is subject to reasonable regulations. And what people have done with that decision [Heller] is to take it as far as they possibly can and reject what has been our history from the very beginning of the republic, where some of the earliest laws that were passed were about firearms. So I think it’s important to recognize that reasonable people can say, as I do, responsible gun owners have a right. I have no objection to that. But the rest of the American public has a right to require certain kinds of regulatory, responsible actions to protect everyone else.”
Our colleagues at PolitiFact North Carolina made the astute observation that Clinton’s focus on additional regulations mirrors the brief filed by the George W. Bush administration during the deliberations on Heller. The Bush administration had feared that an appeals court ruling (which the Supreme Court in Heller upheld) had gone too far and that the ruling was too broad.
“Like other provisions of the Constitution that secure individual rights, the Second Amendment’s protection of individual rights does not render all laws limiting gun ownership automatically invalid. To the contrary, the Second Amendment, properly construed, allows for reasonable regulation of firearms, must be interpreted in light of context and history, and is subject to important exceptions, such as the rule that convicted felons may be denied firearms because those persons have never been understood to be within the Amendment’s protections. Nothing in the Second Amendment properly understood — and certainly no principle necessary to decide this case — calls for invalidation of the numerous federal laws regulating firearms.”
The Bush administration’s brief indicates that Clinton’s position is really not as radical as the NRA suggests. When Clinton was specifically asked by Chris Wallace in a Fox News interview if she would like to see Heller overturned, she replied: “No, I don’t, but here’s what I do want. And I want to be very clear about this: I want the Congress to step up and do its job…. The gun lobby intimidates elected officials. The vast majority of Americans, including gun owners, support the kind of common-sense reforms that I’m proposing.”
Update: The NRA posted a statement denouncing this analysis of its ad as “dubious,” “devoid of merit,” and “absurd.” Interestingly, the statement quotes our colleagues at PolitiFact. For some reason, the NRA does not mention that PolitiFact also found this ad to be “false”— and that it is “false” to say Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment.
The Pinocchio Test
This is a classic example of a fear-mongering ad based on little evidence but leaps of logic. While the NRA does not go so far as to claim that Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment, the wording of its claim suggests that.
Clinton has said that she disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision in Heller, but she has made no proposals that would strip Americans of the right to keep a gun at home for self-defense. Clinton is certainly in favor of more gun regulations and tougher background checks, and a more nuanced ad could have made this case. Conjuring up a hypothetical Supreme Court justice ruling in a hypothetical case is simply not enough for such a sweeping claim. That tips the ad’s claim into the Four-Pinocchio category.
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