Was Donald Trump calling for Hillary Clinton’s assassination when he spoke on Tuesday in North Carolina? The New York Times sure seems to think so.
This was Trump’s apparently offensive quote: “Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”
Suppose the phrase Second Amendment people had been replaced with any other special-interest group. Would there be any claims that Trump was threatening assassinations?
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In a Newsweek interview on Monday, Hillary Clinton excoriated the lobbying power of these very same Second Amendment people. “We need to elect leaders with the courage to stand up to the gun lobby,” she declared. It is a remark that she has made time and again. But presumably Clinton isn’t suggesting that standing up to the gun lobby takes a special kind of courage because this lobby has a particular capacity for violence?
Based on her stand, shouldn’t Clinton’s response be that Trump is encouraging Second Amendment people to lobby to block her appointments? Why would anyone claim that he is encouraging her assassination?
The reaction to Trump’s statement comes across as a type of political Rorschach test for liberals, revealing their own biases more than anything else. Are people up in arms over Trump’s statement because the right to self-defense has been conflated with being able to go around shooting people? Have people been conditioned to take everything literally?
Let’s take a brief test.
During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama said, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” Were you really worried that Obama was talking about real weapons being brought into the U.S. Capitol?
Trump said in January, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Do you think that the police should have surrounded Trump to make sure that he didn’t start shooting people?
In 2008, Hillary Clinton justified staying in the Democratic nomination contest past the end of May because “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.” Was Clinton really suggesting that someone assassinate Obama?
Does anyone seriously believe that Obama or Trump or Clinton were literally threatening actions with a gun?
For those who argue that Trump should have been more careful in making his statement on Tuesday, did Obama and Trump need to specify that they weren’t literally talking about real guns being used? Should Clinton have made it clear that she wasn’t claiming that NRA members have been actually physically threatening politicians with violence?
Trump was clearly right about what a Clinton presidency would mean for the Second Amendment. Until 2008, Washington, D.C., had a complete handgun ban. It was also a felony to put a bullet in the chamber of a gun. This effectively constituted a complete ban on guns. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down these laws.
In June, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Clinton about the Heller decision. She said: “I think that for most of our history, there was a nuanced reading of the Second Amendment until the decision by the late Justice (Antonin) Scalia and there was no argument until then that localities and states and the federal government had a right, as we do with every amendment, to impose reasonable regulation.”
Clinton went on to talk about her push for expanded background checks, as though the Heller decision was a natural segue. But Heller only concerned complete gun bans. Clinton needs to explain what made those bans “reasonable.” Why was it reasonable to imprison someone for five years for defending his family?
If Trump had referred to a group other than Second Amendment supporters on Tuesday, it’s unlikely that anyone would have taken these extreme interpretations seriously. But the media mischaracterize Trump’s statements at every opportunity and maligns individuals who believe in the right to self-defense.
John R. Lott Jr. is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of “The War on Guns.” He wrote this for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.