Arkansas has pretty permissive gun laws. It does not require handgun owners to obtain licenses, does not ban so-called assault weapons, issues concealed-carry permits to anyone who meets a short list of objective criteria, accepts carry permits issued by other states, and since 2013 arguably allows people to openly carry handguns without a permit.
Although Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas from 1983 to 1992, he and his wife, the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee, prefer a decidedly more restrictive approach. On Sunday the former president highlighted the couple's disdain for the right to armed self-defense by declaring that "you can't have a bunch of people walking around with guns." The Second Amendment says otherwise.
Clinton made that comment in an interview on CNN's State of the Union, in response to a question about Baltimore's high unemployment rate. He was trying to explain the unrest in that city and others where police have been accused of using excessive force.
Given the context, you might surmise that Clinton favors disarming the police. But instead he seemed to be talking about guns carried by young black men, which he likened to guns carried by combatants in European civil wars.
"I used to tell people when we did Bosnia, Kosovo, anything like that," Clinton said. "You get enough people with weapons around, and there will be unintended consequences. People make mistakes. People do wrong. Things happen."
According to Clinton, if "you get enough people with weapons around," the result is bound to be ugly: a shockingly high homicide rate and general disorder, if not ethnic cleansing and genocide. Yet we know that's not true.
Beginning with Florida in 1987, one state after another has adopted Arkansas-style nondiscretionary carry permit policies, which 38 states now have; four others do not require a permit. It is clear by now that making it easier to legally possess guns in public does not lead to blood flowing in the streets. Although the argument that more guns means less crime remains controversial, there is very little evidence that loosening the rules for carrying guns in public leads to more violence.
Clinton's remarks raise a constitutional question as well as an empirical one. The position that "you can't have a bunch of people walking around with guns" is plainly inconsistent with the Second Amendment's command that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Even when Democrats concede a constitutional right to own a gun, they tend to ignore that second part.
The Democratic Party's platform in 1992, when Clinton was elected to his first term, called for stricter gun control while eschewing "efforts to restrict weapons used for legitimate hunting and sporting purposes." Four years later, when Clinton won a second term, the Democrats bragged about the new gun restrictions he had championed, including an "assault weapon" ban and a new background check system, while again disclaiming any desire to "restrict weapons used for legitimate sporting purposes."
Neither platform said anything about self-defense, let alone the right to bear arms for that purpose. Nor did the platforms adopted in 2000, 2004, 2008, or 2012, although the latter three did mention "the Second Amendment right to own and use firearms."
According to the Clintons, that right can be exercised only with the government's permission. In 1999 Bill said people should have to "register guns like they register their cars." Hillary likewise has supported national licensing and registration of firearms. Although she repudiated that position in 2008, her continuing support for "background checks that work" would require much the same system to keep track of who owns which firearms.
Even as the former secretary of state tries to avoid alienating gun owners, her words give her away. Last year, referring to supporters of a robust Second Amendment, she declared that "we cannot let a minority of people…hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people." The First Amendment says otherwise.
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