Clinton v. Trump: Gun Policy and the Definition of ‘Common Sense’
Politics| | By Matthew D'Onofrio
With less than two months from the 2016 presidential election, now is as good time as ever to map out where Republican Candidate Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton stand on the nation’s closely-divided, widely-triggering issue – gun policy. When it comes to “common sense” gun reform, each candidate has their own idea of what that means.
As stated by the U.S. Constitution, the Second Amendment reads, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Looking at the nation as a whole, most states allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms after completing specific requirements. Some states don’t even require a permit and other states give the government complete control over who gets a permit. And then there’s Connecticut where the government has some discretion, but generally permits are granted to those who obey the law.
Rewind back to 1968, the Gun Control Act took effect and prohibited the sale of firearms to individuals that fall under certain “untrustworthy” categories, such as being under 18, having a criminal record or mental disability, or getting dishonorably discharged from the military.
Fast forward to 1993 when this law was amended by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to mandate background checks. Now, bring it back a little to 1986 when the Firearm Owners Protection Act was also added to basically allow anyone (law-abiders and felons alike) to purchase a firearm without a background check via gun shows, infamously known as “the gun show loophole.”
Almost there, leap to 2008 when the ruling of District of Columbia v. Heller confirmed an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, which essentially struck down D.C. laws that banned handguns and required those in the home to be locked or disassembled.
Finally, jump ahead to 2012, a time when semi-automatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines were not banned by federal law. That December, a 20-year-old in Newtown, CT (remember their law?) stole his law-abiding-mother’s Bushmaster XM-15 rifle and .22-caliber Savage Mark II rifle to gun down 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The unforgettable incident, regarded as America’s deadliest mass shooting at a high school or grade school and third-deadliest mass shooting by a single person in U.S. history, sparked national discussion over gun laws and, as seen almost four years later, was not the last of its kind.
In the past 50 years, there have been 127 “mass shooting” events in which at least four people were killed by a single shooter and in three cases, two shooters. The death toll equates to 874 victims, ranging from eight-months-old to 98-years-old. The amount of guns used in these events totals 245, in which 140 were obtained legally, 39 illegally and the rest unknown.
Despite the horror, people killed in mass shootings only make up less than half of one percent of the people shot to death in the United States. In 2015, while 39 were killed in mass shootings alone, guns have injured over 25,000 and killed more than 12,000 people, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
And America has under 5 percent of the world’s population yet has around 35 to 50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, according to a 2007 report by the Small Arms Survey. It ranks number one in firearms per capita.
There is no debate on whether or not the U.S. is facing critical problems with gun policy. There is, however, a debate on who or what is to blame and how to fix that.
So, where does each candidate stand and what will they do to solve America’s catastrophic gun problem?
Trump (100 percent) states that he stands by the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and the fundamental right to which the Supreme Court has upheld, saying, “This is about self-defense, plain and simple.
“It’s been said that the Second Amendment is America’s first freedom. That’s because the Right to Keep and Bear Arms protects all our other rights. We are the only country in the world that has a Second Amendment. Protecting that freedom is imperative.”
Trump aims to “enforce the laws on the books” by bringing back and expanding programs that are designed to deplete gangs and drug dealers and reduce crime.
One of these programs, Project Exile, locked away violent felons (that used a gun to commit a crime) for five years without parole or early release. Firearm homicides decreased in Richmond, VA by 22 percent in 2005, compared to the average reduction of about 10 percent per year for other large U.S. cities. Trump wants to bring that program back.
He, who boasts about his concealed carry permit, also wants law-abiding gun owners to be acquitted from constant blame and encourages “personal protection” when and where law enforcement can’t be there to provide defense for civilians in dangerous predicaments.
“They’re not gonna take your guns away, folks,” said Trump in a press conference. “They’re not gonna take your guns away. They’re trying.”
When it comes to defending the rights of law-abiding gun owners, Trump believes the government should have no say in what types of firearms they can or cannot use, meaning whether it is a small handgun or a military-style, semi-automatic rifle with a high capacity magazine, that’s okay.
What separates law-abiding gun owners, which Trump labels as “honest people,” and (let’s just call them) untrustworthy people is the federal background check that citizens must go through before buying a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer, a system that has been in place for almost 20 years now. That same system is unfair, inaccurate and slow, and neglects to include criminal and mental health records, according to Trump.
“Do you use [your gun]?” asked an interviewer, referring to use in general or at a gun range, to which Trump scrunched up his face and shook his head responding, “That’s none of your business.”
Trump, who was endorsed by the NRA, says the system must be fixed, not expanded.
Trump also preaches that barely any criminals try passing this (seemingly easy?) test and go through a family member or friend for their firearm, or steal it.
In addition, he wants concealed carry permits to be valid in all 50 states in the same fashion as a driver’s license. He calls it the “national right to carry,” undermining driving as “privilege,” not a right. This, in his eyes, should extend to military bases and recruiting centers, where the military are also allowed to carry firearms at said places.
“To make America great again, we need a strong military,” states Trump on his official website. “To have a strong military, we need to allow them to defend themselves.”
The ability to defend oneself isn’t enough however, because Trump also highlights the need to fix the country’s mental health system, one he calls “broken” and one he has yet to provide an exact solution for.
In this part of his gun policy, Trump again brings attention to law-abiding gun owners getting blamed, this time for mass shooting tragedies. He notes, however, that opponents to gun rights have admitted their “so-called solutions,” as he puts them, didn’t work.
“They don’t blame mental illness,” said Trump at a press conference, pointing to his head. “Our mental health care is out of whack.”
Trump calls for expansions in treatment programs, sympathizing that mentally ill people are not violent but rather need help. But those who are violent need to be taken off the streets.
“This is just common sense,” states Trump on his official website.
Common sense is something his opponent Clinton is all for too, but perhaps the two define the phrase differently.
Clinton says on her official campaign website: “I believe weapons of war have no place on our streets. We may have our disagreements on gun safety regulations, but we should all be able to agree on a few things. If the FBI is watching you for suspected terrorist links, you shouldn’t be able to just go buy a gun with no questions asked. You shouldn’t be able to exploit loopholes and evade criminal background checks by buying online or at a gun show.
“And yes, if you’re too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America.”
Some would say that’s common sense, while others might view it as government over-reach.
Similar(-ish) to Trump, Clinton too believes in prohibiting mentally ill people from having the ability to purchase, or even possess, a gun. That’s pretty much all the two agree on. Included in her political agenda, Clinton wants existing laws improved such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives closing the loophole that allowed people involuntarily committed to outpatient treatment like the Virginia Tech Shooter.
Clinton also calls for the violation known as “straw purchasing,” which is when an individual with a clean record buys a gun for a violent felon, to be a crime, and for stalkers as well all domestic abusers to be prohibited from buying or possessing a gun. The statistic highlighted for this is that woman in the U.S. are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than in other high-income countries and over half murdered by intimate partners or family members.
And even if you can buy a gun, it won’t be a military-style assault weapon, which Clinton intends to keep off the streets along with similar more powerful weapons.
“I’m not here to take away your guns,” urged Clinton though, in a press conference. “I just don’t want you to be shot by someone who shouldn’t have a gun in the first place.”
Preventing people who shouldn’t have guns from, well, getting guns, is solvable through comprehensive background checks says Clinton, who also points out that 20 to 40 percent of all gun purchases in America are conducted with no background check. (That 40 percent figure she got from a 1996 report, by the way.)
Regardless, Clinton fights on the grounds that background checks work to reduce gun trafficking, the lethality of domestic violence, and unlawful gun transfers to dangerous individuals, as stated on her site. She alludes to the success of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which her husband signed, and how similar legislation was not supported after Sandy Hook.
Another fix highlighted by Clinton includes closing the “Charleston Loophole,” named after the Charleston church shooting, which allows gun sales to go through if background checks aren’t completed within three days. Additionally, she plans on taking administrative action to ensure the gun sales and internet sales loophole (yes, another one) is closed as well. Under these, firearm dealers and firearm purchasers don’t need to go through background checks and she wants “common sense” applied – holding them to the same standards as gun stores.
“It is time, my friends, to stand up for common sense gun safety measures,” the former secretary of state told her “friends” in a press conference.
These friends, however, do not include gun dealers and manufacturers, whom she wants to hold completely accountable when American lives are put in danger by guns they’ve sold.
Clinton wants to fund inspections and “aggressively enforce” current law to strip licenses from dealers who knowingly supplied straw purchasers and traffickers. It was reported in 2013 that, of the over 140,000 licensed dealers, only 42 percent were inspected in the preceding five years.
The NRA (along with their Republican allies) is not her friend either, it would appear.
Back in 2005 the NRA lobbied for the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.” The law, which Congress passed, protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes have been committed with their product yet notes they could be in fact liable for negligence when suspecting if a gun could be intended for use in a crime.
If it was up to the former First Lady, this law would be repealed and the gun industry will have hell when it comes to accountability.
“I don’t believe we can stop every every incident of gun violence,” Clinton said, sternly, in a press conference. “But we sure can stop a lot of them.”
That is the ultimate goal – preventing the epidemic of gun violence the nation is currently facing – and although many might believe one candidate blames the gun and the other blames the one holding the gun, it’s really not that black and white.
In summary and explanation, Trump wants to defend gun owners, which is obvious, and their right to defend themselves. He wants to get help for those suffering from a mental illness, which is what he believes to be the source, before a gun is in their hands and to bring down an iron fist on criminals who break the law using a gun with more repercussions.
Clinton also doesn’t want mentally ill people holding guns, but believes comprehensive background checks are the solution, as are closing current loopholes in the law. And defending gun owners, manufacturers and dealers is not a priority for her as she believes more powerful guns are not suitable for civilian hands and accountability for firearms sellers traced to gun violence is in order.
When it comes to public opinion, it should come to no surprise that the country is almost completely divided on gun rights (Trump) versus gun control (Clinton).
Back in December 1993, 57 percent of the nation were for control while 35 percent were for rights, according to the Pew Research Center.
Today, as reported in August 2016, 46 percent were for control while 52 for rights.
That being said, when it comes to specific measures, Americans can finally mostly all agree.
The “no fly, no buy” notion, meaning suspected terrorist can’t board an airplane nor buy a gun, is supported by 86 percent of Americans versus 12 percent. And 93 percent support background checks for all gun buyers, versus only 6 percent who don’t.
However, back to more divisive arguments, 59 percent support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons while 37 percent are against a ban.
You can’t win them all.
“There is a way for us to have common sense gun laws. There is a way for us to make sure that lawful responsible gun owners are able to use them for spotting, hunting, protecting yourself,” said President Barack Obama on PBS NewsHour. “But the only way we’re gonna do that is if we don’t have a situation in which anything that we propose is viewed as some tyrannical destruction of the Second Amendment and that’s how the issue too often gets framed.”
As the election for a new president approaches, so do new gun policies and while the nation will never collectively agree on gun rights or gun control, perhaps Americans can meet in the middle on when it comes common sense.
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