CNN’s Dana Bash: “Congressman. Gun control. In 2014, you told Bill Maher that you wished the Democratic Party would come out against the Second Amendment. How do you reach out to Americans who support gun rights when you don’t support the Second Amendment?”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.): “First of all, let me tell you I remember that show very well, and that is not what I said at all. What I talked about is my grandfather’s shotgun, the fact that I am a turkey hunter, and I didn’t say that. That was not an accurate statement.” […]

Bash: “Congressman, I just want to read you — since you said that that wasn’t what you said, I’ll read you exactly what happened. Bill Maher: ‘Then why doesn’t your party come out against the Second Amendment? It’s the problem.’ Your response: ‘I sure wish they would. I sure wish they would.’ ”

Ellison: “I wish you’d play the tape, because if you did you’d see that it did not go that way. But the real point is this, this country — absolutely, I am for the right to bear arms, but I am not for these massive murders that happen all over this country every day.”
— exchange during CNN debate with candidates for Democratic National Committee leadership, Feb. 22, 2017

During the debate on CNN, Ellison denied making comments about the Second Amendment during a March 2014 interview on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” We were curious to know exactly what he said during the interview, and whether he was being truthful in his response to Bash.

Since Ellison said to check the clips, we did. We found that the answer is not really clear, so we decided to present the comments in full for our readers.

The Facts

The exchange in question begins around the four-minute mark in the video below. (A higher-quality video is here.)

Earlier in the clip, Ellison talks about family members who own guns and go hunting, and says that he is “for gun control, but I don’t think you have got to eliminate ownership of all guns in order to get some common-sense gun rules.”

Later, Maher asks: “Then why doesn’t your party come out against the Second Amendment? It’s the problem.”

The crowd laughs, and then Sheila Bair, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., interjects. She seems to say: “Fifty-one votes, that’s all it takes.” The crowd, Bair and Ellison all laugh. Ellison then says: “I sure wish they would, I sure wish they would.”

Ellison’s campaign staff says his answer was a reference to Bair’s comment, and not an answer to Maher’s question.

Bair, through a spokesman, said the “vote” she was referring to was the nomination of former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. At the time of this interview, Murthy had been waiting for confirmation for 16 months and could not get the 51 votes in the Senate to get confirmed. “She thinks that nomination started the conversation [about gun control]. But it was a long time ago,” her spokesman said.

Murthy’s nomination had been in limbo, partly because of opposition from the gun lobby. The National Rifle Association had called him a “serious threat to the rights of gun owners” because Murthy supported stricter gun control laws:

Even moderate Senate Democrats from states with strong gun cultures opposed Murthy. At the time of the Maher interview, the White House was considering withdrawing Murthy’s troubled nomination, after it became clear moderate Democrats up for reelection would not support Murthy because of his stance on gun control.

Here’s a transcript:

Sheila Bair: I’m a Republican and I’m for gun control. I just want to be — it’s not monolithic.
Keith Ellison: Well, I’m for gun control, too. Let me just say, I’m for gun control but I don’t think you have got to eliminate ownership of all guns in order to get some common-sense gun rules.
Bair: No, you don’t.
Ellison: I mean, 27 children were mowed down. Isn’t that enough for us? One of our colleagues, [former congresswoman] Gabby Giffords, shot in the face.
Maher: Then why doesn’t your party come out against the Second Amendment? It’s the problem.
Ellison: Bill —
Bair: Fifty-one votes, that’s all it takes.
Ellison: I sure wish they would. I sure wish they would.
Maher: Really?
Ellison: Yeah.
Maher: Because I never hear anybody in the Democratic Party say that. But they say, “I am also a strong supporter.”
Ellison: You have got to check out the progressive caucus. We have come out very strong for common-sense gun safety rules.

After some back-and-forth with Maher, Ellison later says: “You can’t solve the problem with just one little thing. You’ve got to make sure that the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] can issue reports on gun killings and handgun violence. You’ve got to make sure that we can get rid of assault weapons. You’ve got to close the loophole at gun shows. You’ve got to do a whole range of things to get us into a sane place. We’ve got 12,000 handgun murders a year. It’s got to stop.”

The Bottom Line

It’s not entirely clear whether Ellison really was talking about Murthy’s nomination, the Second Amendment or votes on gun-control measures in general. But it is clear throughout the interview that Ellison says he supports both gun-control measures and the rights of gun owners. At one point, he says he is “for gun control, but I don’t think you have got to eliminate ownership of all guns in order to get some common-sense gun rules.”

Of course, supporters of gun rights likely would consider the measures Ellison proposes as effectively gutting Second Amendment rights. Still, there seems to be more going on in the conversation that is not immediately clear in the transcripts that Dana Bash read during the debate. A constitutional amendment that would have nullified the Second Amendment would require a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate, and then ratification by three-fourths of the states. So Bair’s interjection of “51 votes” makes it likely that the exchange was alluding to Murthy’s confirmation, rather than a constitutional amendment.

Given the murky information at hand, we will not rate this claim. We welcome readers to reach their own conclusions.

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