"I'm not here to repeal the Second Amendment," Hillary Clinton promised at the Democratic National Convention last week. "I'm not here to take away your guns."
Those disavowals were necessary because Clinton has made gun control a centerpiece of her presidential campaign, contrary to the conventional wisdom about the political risks that entails. But Clinton's assurances ring hollow, since it's pretty clear she not only does not value the individual right to keep and bear arms but does not believe it is guaranteed by the Constitution.
After Democrats' losses in the 1994 congressional elections and the 2000 presidential contest were widely blamed on their support for gun control, the party changed its platform. In 2004, Democrats promised to "protect Americans' Second Amendment right to own firearms," while the 2008 and 2012 platforms both included this sentence: "We recognize that the individual right to bear arms is an important part of the American tradition, and we will preserve Americans' Second Amendment right to own and use firearms."
This year Democrats erased the Second Amendment from their platform, reverting to the approach they took in 2000 and earlier. The 2016 platform mentions "the rights of responsible gun owners" but says nothing about the extent of those rights or the legal basis for them.
The Second Amendment's excision from the Democratic platform is consistent with Clinton's opinion that District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 case in which the Supreme Court recognized that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to armed self-defense, was "wrongly decided." At the very least, that position means Clinton thinks the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to use guns for self-defense in the home, since the law overturned in Heller made it impossible to exercise that right.
But Clinton's disagreement with the Supreme Court seems to go even further. In an interview last June, ABC's George Stephanopoulos pressed her to say whether "an individual's right to bear arms is a constitutional right." She repeatedly dodged the question.
"If it is a constitutional right," Clinton said, "then it, like every other constitutional right, is subject to reasonable regulation." She seemed to be saying that she does not believe people have a constitutional right to firearms but that even voters who do believe that should be OK with her gun control proposals.
Those proposals provide further reason to doubt Clinton's sincerity. She wants to ban so-called assault weapons, repeal the federal law that shields gun suppliers from legal liability for criminal misuse of their products, create new categories of people who are legally disqualified from owning firearms, and extend the federal background check requirement to all gun transfers.
In other words, Clinton wants to arbitrarily restrict the kinds of guns Americans can legally buy, create a new financial threat to the industry that provides the means for armed self-defense, take away people's constitutional rights without due process, and block gun purchases by cannabis consumers, people with nonviolent felony records, and anyone who was ever forcibly treated for suicidal impulses. These are not policies that someone who takes the Second Amendment seriously would favor.
The night before Clinton promised to "work tirelessly with responsible gun owners to pass common-sense reforms," survivors of mass shootings and relatives of people who died in them ascended the stage to make the case for those policies. Like the speeches at the Republican convention about people murdered by illegal immigrants, these presentations were long on emotion and short on logic.
Once you consider the details of those mass shootings, it is clear the policies Clinton favors would not have prevented them. Presenting these horrifying deaths as reasons to enact Clinton-style gun control is not an argument; it's a non sequitur.
According to a tweet from the Clinton campaign, this naked attempt at emotional manipulation was "the first time in #DemConvention history" that the gathering included "a full feature on the impact of gun violence." Voters will decide whether it's the last.
Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @jacobsullum. To find out more about Jacob Sullum and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: David Prasad