Yesterday on CNN's State of the Union, former President Bill Clinton responded to a question about what's wrong with Baltimore by blaming guns:
Clinton: The Baltimore thing came on the heels of what happened in Ferguson, what happened in New York City and all these other places. And there is a big national movement about whether the lives of young African-American men count.
Jake Tapper: #BlackLivesMatter, yeah.
Clinton: Yeah. You can't have a bunch of people walking around with guns. I used to tell people when we did Bosnia, Kosovo, anything like that: You get enough people with weapons around, and there will be unintended consequences. People make mistakes. People do wrong. Things happen.
To hold a community together, you've got to have a high level of community trust. Somebody that's in your family gets shot, you want an answer from someone you know, and you want to be able to ask questions and get them answered and resolve them. So I think that in addition to economics, we need to look at the places in America where these things happen and they don't drive people into the streets because they actually trust the process.
Clinton begins and ends by referring to guns carried by cops, so you might surmise that he favors disarming the police. But that middle part apparently alludes to guns carried by young black men in cities like Baltimore, which he likens to guns carried by combatants in European civil wars. The implication is pretty clear: "You get enough people with weapons around," and the result is bound to be ugly: a shockingly high homicide rate and general disorder, if not ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Except we know that's not true. While the question of whether more guns means less crime remains a subject of lively debate, it is quite clear by now that loosening the rules for carrying guns in public does not inevitably lead to blood in the streets. The guns to which Clinton is referring, of course, are for the most part not carried by law-abiding people with permits to possess concealed weapons in public. Even for people without criminal records, such permits are hard to get in Maryland, where applicants must demonstrate what the state deems a "good and substantial reason," typically based on an imminent threat to one's life. But the experience of states with nondiscretionary carry permit policies, including Clinton's native Arkansas, shows that having "people with weapons around" does not necessarily translate into widespread violence. In any event, it is hard to see what that has to do with the amount of trust that people have in the process for investigating allegations of excessive force by police, which is Clinton's ostensible topic.
Clinton's remarks raise a constitutional question as well as an empirical one. It is hard to reconcile the position that "you can't have people walking around with guns" with the Second Amendment's declaration that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Even when they concede a constitutional right to own a gun, Democrats tend to ignore that second part.
Clinton's wife is, if anything, less keen on gun rights than he is.