LAS VEGAS — The individual right to own firearms has typically been a fringe issue, despite the tens of millions of gun-owning Americans and thousands affected by gun violence each year in the United States.
However, in the 2016 election cycle the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been at forefront of both campaigns, culminating at the final presidential debate Wednesday night.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton defended accusations suggesting she does not support the 2nd Amendment. When prompted by moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, Clinton said:
“Because I support the Second Amendment doesn’t mean that I want people who shouldn’t have guns to be able to threaten you, kill you or members of your family.”
Clinton added that her support for increased gun control is rooted in a desire to make America more safe, not to curb citizens’ rights.
“So I see no conflict between saving people’s lives and defending the 2nd Amendment,” Clinton said.
Following the debate, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) told Independent Journal Review that Clinton maintained the right balance of supporting gun rights but calling for more safety measures:
“[Hillary Clinton] was very clear on the fact that she maintains the 2nd Amendment but that there needs to be ways in which we can make the situation where we can save lives and so I thought she was very very clear in her answer and defended herself very well.”
The Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was advocating on Clinton’s behalf after the debate, suggested that she made the case that “there should be vetting — in particular on the military assault weapons,” adding:
“Military assault weapons have the power to shoot down planes, theaters, and churches and therefore they should not be a part of our national frame.”
Despite Jackson’s claim, Clinton did not mention an assault weapons ban during the debate. In addition, a standard semi-automatic rifle on the civilian market does not have either the strength or accuracy to take down an airplane in flight.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump noted his endorsement from the National Rifle Association and pledged to appoint pro-gun rights justice to the Supreme Court.
“We are going to appoint justices — this is the best way to help the 2nd Amendment. We are going to appoint justices that will feel very strongly about the 2nd Amendment, that will not do damage to the 2nd Amendment.”
Trump’s surrogates insisted that he got his point across to Clinton, despite keeping his points about 2nd Amendment support relatively brief.
After the debate concluded, Trump campaign senior adviser Sarah Huckabee said:
“Frankly, I appreciated Hillary for reminding the entire country tonight that the NRA supports Donald Trump and not her. I think that’s a point of pride and not an attack that she thinks it is.”
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry told Independent Journal Review that Trump did not even need to make his case on gun rights.
“Well I think the point’s already gotten across on the 2nd Amendment. I think Hillary is real suspect regardless of what she says.”
And Perry’s claim is somewhat correct. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the individual’s right to own a firearm in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller. Even more so, the NRA, which has been one of Trump’s most ardent backers through advertising, still experiences considerably high favorability ratings from the general public.
Each candidate has released detailed position papers on the gun rights. Clinton’s paper uses a heavy hand to curb firearm access and ownership while Trump’s maintains a textualist approach to the 2nd Amendment, despite his past history of supporting gun control measures.
In an election year when gun rights have been thrust into the conversation at state, local, and federal levels, both candidates made sure their stark differences were made clear.