No stranger to exaggeration, well-coiffed billionaire Donald Trump told an audience at a National Rifle Association event that his likely general election opponent Hillary Clinton planned to "abolish the Second Amendment" to the Constitution. There's no truth to that claim, as has been noted repeatedly — and as Clinton herself had noted in a tweet.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) May 20, 2016
It seems obvious on the face of it that no candidate seeking federal elected office in the United States would be advised, in the current political environment, to advocate for repeal of the Second Amendment. Barack Obama has been the subject of rumors about his desire to ban weapons for about as long as he's been subject to equally true rumors about his religion and his birthplace, but even after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, the strongest proposal Obama offered was to expand background checks. A plurality of Americans opposes new gun control measures, according to Quinnipiac University polling from September — much less approving of gutting the second item on the Bill of Rights.
We wondered, then, when and if there had ever been a real effort to repeal the Second Amendment in modern times. There have been a lot of letters written to a lot of newspaper editors making passing reference to the idea, such as the man who wrote in to the New York Times in June 1968 to take issue with comments from the then-head of the NRA. "The hysterical, demagogic statement of June 12 issued by Harold W. Glassen, president of the National Rifle Association," George Braden wrote, "indicates that perhaps the vast majority of civilized Americans at last have this little band of murder-weapon lovers on the run." (Glassen was speaking about a Senate push for new gun controls in the wake of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, and analogized — as is now not-uncommon — to controls introduced during the ascent of the Nazi party in Germany.) "Personally, I think we would do well to repeal the Second Amendment," Braden wrote, but explained that this wasn't the goal of the Senate bill, which instead hoped to "know precisely who keep and bear arms and to assure ourselves that they are competent keepers and bearers."
Twenty-five years later, a different national tragedy — the spiking murder rate — led to what may be the only congressional effort to repeal the amendment. Offered twice by Major Owens, a representative from New York, congressional resolutions introduced in 1992 and 1993 failed to even get co-sponsors much less a vote on the floor.
There was a more significant call to repeal the Second Amendment in that same period that came from a much less expected source than a Democratic representative from New York. In his syndicated column that ran in March 1991, no less an esteemed conservative than George Will called directly for the amendment's repeal.
Will argued that it was poorer Americans who bore the brunt of gun violence and that if it were middle-class kids who were "dying in such epidemic numbers, gun control would be considered a national imperative." He walks through the legal arguments surrounding the application of the amendment and concludes:
The National Rifle Association is perhaps correct and certainly is plausible in its "strong" reading of the Second Amendment protection of private gun ownership. Therefore gun-control advocates who want to square their policy preferences with the Constitution should squarely face the need to deconstitutionalize the subject by repealing the embarrassing amendment.
Over the course of this election cycle, Will has been more than willing to find fault with Trump's candidacy and positions. Trump, of course, is a recent newcomer to doctrinaire positions in support of gun rights. Here's a Trump tweet from after Sandy Hook, praising an Obama speech in which he called for new expansions on background checks — earning anger from the right.
President Obama spoke for me and every American in his remarks in #Newtown Connecticut.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 17, 2012
Incidentally, there is one current candidate for federal office who explicitly supports a repeal of the Second Amendment, as Salon reported. His name is Mike Barkley, and he's running for the House from Northern California. His platform includes introducing a House resolution similar to Owens's.
Barkley, who ran in 2014 and came in third, will not win election to the House in a Republican district. The political moment simply wouldn't reward someone seen as an anti-gun absolutist.
Which is why Trump says that of Clinton.